Thursday, December 22, 2016

poems for Dec. 14-15

Dust of Snow by Robert Frost
Holidays by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Red Brocade Naomi Shihab Nye
The Year by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Fiction by Howard Nemerov
Jerusalem by Naomi Shihab Nye
Poem for the New Year by Devin Johnston

The first poem is only one sentence, divided into two parts the groups quickly grasped as external cause/internal effect. Some were definitely of the “a crow is a crow is a crow” and some tried for crow as depression. David felt compelled to write this:

"Here was this little poem, lovely and mysterious, refusing to explain what it claimed, a bit haiku-like but more complex for its layering of time and its Frostian qualification: what that bird did "Saved some part of a day I had rued." The earlier feeling was changed by this small event--though not altogether, it seems.
Simple as it is, this little poem reminds me of what's I like about rhyme, the mystery of words so alike in sound but so different in meaning and even part of speech? A good rhyme is akin to a good pun. Here it's ordinary rhymes --crow/snow (noun/noun) and me/tree (pronoun/noun)--leading to a more interesting one-- mood and rued. Who even uses that verb? But mostly I love the way that Frost gives rich meaning to a mere fact in the story. Just as in "A Time to Talk" that hoe set to stand upright in the soft ground becomes a kind of effigy and place-holder for the poet taking a break from his labors, so here, in an even subtler way, all those slight and slender motions--the shifting of the bird's weight on the branch (whether alighting or taking off or just shifting position), the movement of the branch that dislodges the powdery snow, the snow's drift downward, the feel and sight of this delicate snowfall on the speaker ("on me")--together create a beautiful analog for an inner change, a change not even of idea but just of mood. It's another, deeper kind of rhyming. This series of actions, some named, others implied, and none described in detail, dramatizes the poem's very claim that the event that began outside the speaker continued inside him. Meanwhile, the event's delicate beauty befits the small but crucial nature of the inner change. The herb rue has a bitter taste, which says something of the feeling it's named for. Anything, however small,rescued from that feeling is a saving indeed. And how was that done? By the sheer beauty of this action, by the speaker's good luck in being where he was, and by his greater good fortune of having the capacity to receive this accidental gift."

The Longfellow sonnet starts with a universal, and winds up with the idea of fairy tales finding us... The group sensed the poem coming from a dark place... perhaps written after the death of his wife, who burned to death... See "Cross of Snow" -- remembering his wife 18 years after her death... like the mountain bearing a cross of snow... Holidays... and what is sacred,
we keep close in our heart. The tight rhyming abba / abba/cde/cde, the slant rhyme of holidays and unclouded; three times white, for sail (fairy tale); cloud (more f's of floats, fades to echo "full," "feeling overflows""flames");
and for the whitest lily. Laced with l's "holiest, holidays, silence" join the f + l combinations; and sweep along to swallows; gleam; sail, land, lovely landscape.

Both the Red Brocade and Jerusalem allow us to consider the Arab culture and rules of hospitality. Imagine if we took time
to understand each stranger! Imagine if we did not hide behind "busy", did not have to pretend we have a purpose in the world.
We did pick up on the use of the past verb tense "The Arabs used to say," and also, "That’s the armor everyone put on/to pretend they had a purpose/in the world. Is this to contrast with the rest of the poem... the "Let's go back to that" -- the "No, I was not planning to be busy"... I love how poetry asks us to pause, reflect, probe. The poem's title
Red Brocade, returns with the mention of a red brocade pillow, rice, pine nuts, and ends with mint, something to be "snipped together".

Ella Wheeler Wilcox's most enduring work was "Solitude", which contains the lines "Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone. Her rhyming couplets are not hackneyed. Using the word burden with its double meaning as musical refrain... and weight, repeated emotions of being human provided a delightful surprise.

Nemerov, Poet Laureate and brother of Diane Arbus, also provides us with surprises. What is reality in a poem called "fiction"?
The elevator metaphor brought up many stories and memories of the first elevators... I love that he "planed" us into 2-D,
... carried us "up." Who are we in 3-D life? How will we "rise and fall" -- are we ready when our number comes up?

The final poem "Jerusalem" is helped by knowing that it means "City of Peace". The epigraph by Tommie Olafsson
addresses inner and outer peace:
“Let’s be the same wound if we must bleed.
Let’s fight side by side, even if the enemy
is ourselves: I am yours, you are mine.”

We discussed the word "riddle" -- as in whatever is at hand, shot through with hints to be unraveled.
"... the boy who has fallen
stands up. A bucket of pears
in his mother’s doorway welcomes him home.
The pears are not crying.

Pears looks like "tears" which could be noun or sound like the verb. The explanation is that the boy grew wings--
that only come from understanding he was not the target. What vulnerable spots do we each have? How do we explain their riddle? Why not have an olive tree (symbol of peace) become the son slain in war... Without saying, "Love can do such miracles..." the reader might conclude this. The "monumentally" associated with our slowness to understand, is swiftly
followed by soldiers stalking a pharmacy... The last line, "Everything happens next." has also a riddle-like quality--
all we have done, has effect on the next. Everything is all-inclusive and inescapable.

The poems chosen gave us all rise for lively discussion, mirrors with which to look at ourselves, share our reflections.
Not one laid out "truth" in a way one could summarize; all laid out details which point to it, the way good poems do.

Everyone tells me how grateful they are for these weekly discussions-- indeed! I am a lucky one to have such a group.
Thank you all who attend who might read this.

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