Saturday, August 13, 2016

Poems for Aug. 4

Last week, we looked at poems in translation. Act, where love is defined as "the desire of  the I for another I", a newly discovered fragment of Sappho (a different version to contrast this week); as David put it so aptly "poetry is what is lost in translation" -- and when relying on a translation we do not have the original sounds, all that is "culturally imbedded" but rather can only judge the translation as a separate poem, aside from the original.
When we discussed the Herrera, Kathy brought up the performance piece "34" by Patricia Smith: see this youtube:
"34" describes the rising waters of Hurricane Katrina in 2008, to commemorate the 34 inmates of a nursing home that was not evacuated.
I closed the session with another poem by Miller Williams, the inaugural poet for Clinton, who passed away in January, 2015. I enclose it again.
It came to my attention because of a blog report that talks about the BOA exhibit at Rush Rhees library that will close this Sunday.

"Two Brothers" poem (Sappho Fragment) by Meryl Altman * see -- kindness of John

Kind Permission by John Asbury
Love Poem with Toast by Miller Williams
The Secret Denise Levertov
The Day I Saw Barack Obama Reading Derek Walcott’s Collected Poems by Yusef Komunyakaa
extrait from "The Fuehrer Bunker" by William W.D Snodgrass

The Altman version of the two brothers is a snapshot of a mother/daughter conversation where Sappho wags a finger at her mother for favoring Charoxos the go-getter brother... The ending which criticizes the laziness of Laraxos seems to stretch beyond the nuisance of it, to imply expectations of a man, with a note of lament.
see last week's discussion.

Ashbury poem plays with language in a humorous way which allows multiple layers of understanding. The first line,
"Almost tonight, let’s not and say we did."
introduces a "we" that seems to speak in code. What does "kind permission" mean -- to be the same kind of person, with rights... or perhaps a reduction of "with your kind permission" which isn't really asking for permission or doing more than lip service to any "kindness" involved...
The flow of the language is pleasing. Although there is an uncomfortableness about what is going on, it also makes us chuckle... One person commented that "The dance of 7 veils is down to 1". another said it sounded like
as Fire Island poem... However you read it, each sentence demands a double take, which is not unpleasant.

The Miller Williams also uses colloquialisms -- and that same wish to make things happen -- but also not..
"With yes and no like the poles of a battery
powering our passage through the days,
we move, as we call it, forward,
wanting to be wanted,"
but then the poem veers to large issues, away from the personal..
only to veer back, ending with a complexity of the last word which is charged like the battery.
"we gaze across breakfast and pretend."

The Levertov poem repeats the word "secret" juxtaposing two girls who "suddenly discover" the "secret of life"
with the speaker who can't find it, and then you realize the discovery in a line of poetry was the poet's line of poetry... who loves them for finding it -- and loving her for writing it... which launches into the complexity of poetry... and the root of the matter -- wanting to find such a secret "and assuming there is
such a secret".

The Komunyakaa is also an excellent example of framing -- a mixed-race President reading poems by a mixed-race poet from Santa Lucia. Ending on the image of Octopus – who is not defined by it’s ink...but uses it to survive, hiding itself...
Komunyakaa's last stanza is worthy of contemplation.
The President of the United States of America
thumbs the pages slowly, moving from reverie
to reverie, learning why one envies the octopus
for its ink, how a man’s skin becomes the final page.

It would be wonderful if everyone subscribes to the idea that "We’re all sliced from the same loaf, just toasted differently..." but the identification as a "black person" vs. the person whose deeds are worthy of ink... and the drama that the ink is not used on paper necessarily... The reference to "Star apple kingdom", one of Walcott's books, describes the struggle for new social order without sacrificing democracy.
The poem was written at the beginning of Obama's 2008 term.

We need more time to read both more Komunyakaa and more Walcott...

We ran out of time to discuss thoroughly the final selection of the fragment of the Fuehrer's Bunker by Snodgrass. The opening and closing line is chilling knowing the history of the murder by and suicide of Mrs. Goebbels.
"How can you do the things you know you’ll do?–" The villanelle form is particularly effective, with the repetitions closing in with a different twist.

"You can’t pick how you’ll live. Our times will screw
Your poor last virtues from you, ruthlessly.
How can you do the things you know you’ll do?

see villanelle by Snodgrass:
which talks about “Fuehrer’s Bunker” . It is part of an exhibit of BOA publications at Rush Rhees library, on view until Sunday. Here is David Kramer’s report on the exhibit.


Thank you everyone for today’s rich discussion and for your loving support when I shared the news of my mum’s passing early Monday morning.
We did not get to the final poem, which we will save for another time . I also recommend the poem title that came up in the 4th stanza of the Komunyakaa. It seems a bit too long for reading aloud, but well worth the read, and will enrich the discussion of The Day I Saw Barack Obama Reading Derek Walcott’s Collected Poems . The link below. Derek Walcott, “The Star Apple Kingdom”.

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