Friday, January 6, 2017


-- Waking in Trump's America by Jan Steckel (Goodreads Author)
but why not have a bit of fun?
-- A Snap Quiz in Body Language by David Wagoner
-- Last Century Thoughts in Snow Tonight by Peter Gizzi
-- I Asked Mr Dithers Whether It Was Time Yet He Said No to Wait
-- Keeping Quiet by Pablo Neruda
-- Dear Reader (Rita Mae Reese)
-- Cartoon Physics, part 1 By Nick Flynn

I love that both the Pittsford and Rundel groups thought of this iconic photograph with the David Wagoner poem. (Sailor kissing the nurse, WW2)

Another person was reminded of the cartoon in the New Yorker “Not tonight dear”
And Judith provided us with Goya. On the site, scroll down to Capricho 7: "Ni asi la distingue" (Even like this he can't make her out)
Emily brought in Klimt, "The Kiss".

ASHBURY - 2 poems
We discussed “I asked Mr. Dithers, etc.” but not the second one, “The Lightening conductor”. to view both:
Two Poems by John Ashbery

For those who agree with Samuel Johnson, “Language is the dress of thought”, I enclose the original Spanish of the Neruda poem with a translation by Stephen Mitchell.

CARTOON PHYSICS (Nick Flynn) has been “illustrated” here:

Quite by accident, it turns out that the title of each poem selected this week provided much food for thought about the role of title. To take the poems in order: Some thought "Waking in Trump's America" too specific, written for the occasion of the Inauguration, but without the title, saw a much more universal poem. The idea of "Waking" gives a sense of a country that has been asleep. The title establishes the "here and now, January 2017, but also embraces an underpinning about what our Statue of Liberty symbolizes about democracy, and the delicate and complicated issue of immigration. Without the title, the poem could refer simply to what America stands for: the personified Statue of liberty is the one who needs help, unable to welcome immigrants given that torn rotator cuff. It's a reversal of the Lazarus words, "give me your poor, huddled masses yearning to be free". The torch, which boils in the sea, the seething Island of waiting immigrants adds sizzling anger. Dual passport -- returns with "résistance" as an echo of the French in WW2. But the delight of the humor, couples with the surprise in the 3rd stanza, line 8, a lovely "volta" where all readers are addressed: Friends, look at the person next to you.// Put your arm around their shoulder.
It was amazing that in both groups, we all did turn, look at each other, put our arm around each others' shoulders!

In the next poem, "Snap Quiz" ties into the way we make "snap judgements" What does body language tell us? Curious that the nurse in the WWII photograph, indeed, did not want to be in the picture... And I love that many shared examples of art that the poem triggered in their mind. (see above: Klimt, "The Kiss", Goya, "Capricho", the sailor/nurse picture.) The six questions at the end of the poem both invite a contemplation of what might happen (without knowing much about the scene), which mimics the way a court can cross-examine a witness to prepare a certain picture in the mind of the jury. With a group of 25 people, I am guessing that there would have been 25 difference scenarios. How do we form our judgements-- especially from what we think we see in body language?

The title of the Grizzi poem is mysterious-- why "last century thoughts" -- which ones -- are we dealing with New Year's day, 2000, 1900? or the left-over, lasting thoughts that persist from time past...or maybe the last (about to disappear) remnant of some century thought, coupled with snow, which is seasonal, comes, melts, has a plurality of ways of behaving depending on temperature, wind, etc. The ambiguity is not distracting because the sound carries the multiple directions. As a sound poet, it is not surprising how beautifully Grizzi threads sibilance (this/flits/tips/things) with taps of the T's in the first two lines. The reply has "s" only in "sometimes".
"This is winter where light flits at the tips of things.
Sometimes I flit back and glitter."

There are five instances of the pronoun, "I" -- plus a spectacle which implies eye-glasses, and two mentions of self-reliance.

How many ways can you say "ça va"? It could be translated as: "Enough already."; "Are you OK?". "Have you understood."
"This is winter"-- repeated 3 times.
Winter does require resiliance. But there are more layers. Each person in the group found different sources of "astonishment". Where did the blanket come from... Read the poem again tomorrow, it will bend with you.
Reminded some Conrad Aiken: Secret Snow, silent snow...

I only picked one of the two poems by John Ashbery. Grizzi, in an interview says, 'I write to discover what I know...' Ashbery also allows connections that make unusual contact that allow us to think deeper.
I love the title, "I Asked Mr Dithers Whether It Was Time Yet He Said No to Wait" and if you know the cartoon "Blondie" you can see Mr. Dithers and Bumstead, and "you" becomes one of them as well as time.
One person pointed out that the line "Sixty wondering days" might refer to a kind of marijuana...
which would facilitate perhaps imagining such a surreal situation.
How does the final line change the last sentence?
It was New Year’s Eve
again. Time to get out the punchbowl,
make some resolutions,
I don’t think.

I don't think so? Or literally, resolutions made by the speaker of the poem after some punch, where
there are made, but he's not thinking, or... ?

The Neruda is worth exploring in Spanish (see above). Both groups found something in it that referenced resistance to war -- the collective "we" in the opening couplet, reduced to "I" in the final couplet.
And if, I want to say, and if, we truly thought about what we are doing... meditated with a sense of quiet? We might stand a chance to understand the "sadness of never understanding ourselves"; draw closer to the earth giving us so many lessons we ignore in our busy lives.

Dear Reader reminded Judith of the way 19th century novels commenced -- an intimate invitation to the reader disclosing the intention of the book. I can imagine after reading the poem, someone scrawling the words in a diary, not remembering who might find them, but desperate to share the fact that their memory, their own self, is being erased. But that is not the voice that begins.
It is the person who helps that person. The repeat "chair, book, daughter, soup." brings shivers. The daughter as nurse, or perhaps the nurse who knows the daughter... Again, who is we, you, I ? Example:
"I tell you what lies
in each direction: "

"Lies" with a line break, allows us to process it to mean 'what is not truth', as well as what lies in each direction (past, present, future).
Is it the nurse, or the daughter, saying the "useless words" about how the niece must mean so much to her and witnessing the violent reaction, "she is/
everything to me".
If the daughter, indeed the feeling of uselessness of loving someone who cannot recognize, remember is a painful reminder of the slow process of losing them. The poem ends with the echo of the words that might once have connected them: chair, book, daughter, soup.

On a lighter note, we ended with "Cartoon Physics" -- those marvelous moments which we know cannot happen... Some had the image of Wiley Coyote running off the cliff, realizing he is above a chasm... and hopefully able to rewind to regain the path. But we know, usually, he is suspended there for a moment, before falling. It's like a good enjambment in a poem!
In a cartoon everything is possible, like " a man draws a door on a rock/
only he can pass through it."

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