Sunday, February 5, 2017

poems for Feb. 1-2

American History by Michael S. Harper, (1938 – 2016)

almost two pages long:
quaking conversation by Lenelle Moïse
The Children of Aleppo by Chard deNiord
On the Sadness of Wedding Dresses by James Galvin
Still I rise -- by Maya Angelou
Happy the Man -- by John Dryden

Included for O Pen: ( ) by Brenda Hillman
Included for Rundel -- mention of Wind in the Willows (Konrad)


Length of poem is sometimes discouraging to me, although recently I have come across 3 page poems
which don't feel long at all, but work a spell that a short poem would miss.
I didn't pick "A Brief History of Hostility" by Jamaal May, interesting -- but possibly too long to read, but did pick the amazing "American History" which in 9 lines provides "American History" that is not talked about either in school text books or in the general culture.
From the dates you can see the Michael S. Harper died young (54 years old), and the poem comes from his book "Images of Kin" so you can guess he is black. I would want to read more of his work.
The short lines, the word "redcoats" in italics, the closing rhetorical question enjambed
"Can't find what you can't see/
can you?"
brought up a discussion of tone. Several people gave a try of reading that sentence -- it is
a perfect vehicle to capture commentary... the tragedy of what is unsaid, unspoken, forgotten.
The italics remind us that labeling, such as in "Redcoats" sets up a "them/us"... and the horror
of taking human life to hide wrongful traffic...
Some remarked how at first, there was a sense that the people in the water were being hidden
to be saved... but on second read, of course, imagine FIVE HUNDRED -- the weight of all those bodies,
under water... and the reason -- so those redcoats wouldn't find them...and the slave traders would not suffer the consequence of "breaking the British laws that forbade such trade... This gives the final question a special clout, the turn, "can you", throws the reader a challenge... so what are you going to do about it ?

quaking conversation, takes all meanings of quake-- the physical earthquake, the political consequences that shake a nation, and the general injustice that makes one shudder. The small "i" Doris explained, is a way of saying "we" as opposed to the capitalized I which stands in its solo importance. Curious how Haiti has two "i"'s. The dates remind us of the first rebellions, Toussaint L'Ouverture, Napoleon, and the history of Haiti, which looks like a dirty brown bandage steeped in blood next to the large and lush green of the Dominican Republic; how strange two nations on one island turned out so differently. We learn Haitians greet each other with "honor" and "respect" and the open brings us to consider any victim; we are reminded that we are all subject to consequences of decisions made by our parents, our nation... how what happens to one person could happen to us all. We all have names, nerve, complexity and deserve honor and respect.

The quatrains do the work of oratory... the repetition of "i want to talk about haiti returns, doubles in the penultimate stanza... i always want to talk about haiti -- and the final stanza with it's three occlusive "come", "cry", talk, walk... a plea to consider all the complexity. The "wanting" of the poet, Lenelle invites the reader to talk about history, responses to disasters, and the striking phrase, "Irreversible dead". The next stanza calls them the "newest ancestors”. Thus, dead, but now, benevolent ghosts that still can work, from the past. They will help us talk about corruption,but also to express gratitude that we are living, with choices that bring a compassionate respect to other living people.

The Children of Aleppo: 18 lines. The first 8 tells the story. Children, asking/a thousand questions. Stilled by an answer they never saw, a "surgical strike". The next 10 lines ask an ambiguous question, interrupted and broken by another question.
"So why not the men inside the sky..." could refer to "why do they not ask about why the sky is blue;" or, "why are their tongues not suddenly stilled;" or "why does silence not ring in their place?"
The complexity of the unfinished question includes the question mark about the feeling of flying.
The discussion included the problem of receiving orders, and the contradictory paradox of
fine flyers, with "everywhere to turn" -- really superb-- but no where to go.
The final sentence as one of the participants put it, capitalizes on the enjambment of "really--
a "leaking sarcasm" on the word "superb".

I isolated the sounds of all the consonant clusters with s, as the hissing sibilance threads the poem, surrounds us:
First sentence:
asking, suddenly tongues, stilled, answer, saw, silence, rings, place, stone, Arkansas. thousand (z)
First question:
So, inside, sky, wings, clouds. (z)
continuation of question:
distance, is, theirs, turns, heavens,
continuation of question
Final part of question:
as excellent pilots

The vowel sounds accentuate the EEEEEEE -- which when pronounced, pulls the lips apart to the ears
and has a cutting sharpness to it... the short "i" (children/stilled") moves to long "I",
silence, inside, high, pilots). How the I sound in sky, has two difference views -- those looking up at it,and those bombing down from it.
We discussed at length the ptsd -- not just of pilots, but of those who program the drones.
How do people do what they do in times of war...

The Sadness of Wedding Dresses provided welcome relief -- the oddity of the conceit somewhat funny, but with a sense of sarcasm. Rich rhyming, "less" "dress", the slide of "l's" and ghostly "w's"
hints at something other than wedding dresses. Discussion included cynicism about the "wedding industry", but also, women defending the tradition -- the beautiful workmanship of making the dresses, the poorly-paid work of beading;

Perhaps some felt offended, or irritated at these lines:
"But what sad story brought it there,
And what sad story will take it away?"
although the "tongue-in-cheek" follow-up removes a rather sour view of weddings:
"Somewhere a closet is waiting for it."

The poem allows for a wealth of sharing -- everyone has a wedding story... betrayals
a week after the wedding, happy stories of re-using a dress, the debt one man is still paying off
20 years after his daughters were married...
What invites us to “collude” with the poem are the personal details, we want to add to the universals...
It is not an amusing poem, yet we laugh... welcoming the wedding dress perspective...
whether it be brown taffeta,or 6 yards of satin. Marna, who used to make wedding dresses
brought up the comparison of creating a dress was like being a hair stylist... fitting it just so
to allow the bride to bloom.

Another person seemed to think the highest ambition of the dress might be to go up in the air. Another said it had a very buddhist slant-- that self denial and right thinking is a way to reach Nirvanna. Another thought the sadness came from the fact that one dresses up for special occasions--
and that it infers the marriage cannot match something so extraordinary...
Of course in one sense it doesn't matter what a person wears to go to a museum or theater or church or other event, however, it is a sign of respect, a way to say that the occasion was extraordinary, important.

I'm glad Sherman Alexie picked the poem for the "Best of American Poetry- 2015."
The poem goes beyond wedding dresses… The symbol of a dress usually worn once, then
relegated to a closet reminds me of how easy it is to treat people that way too — We put a spotlight on someone, and for a moment, that person is special. Perhaps like a Christmas card from a far away friend, after read once, it is stored in a drawer, removed from daily life. We forget to pay attention to what matters and the forgotten dresses remind us of that. However, will you forget
"They are flung outside the double-wide,
Or the condo in Telluride,
And doused with gasoline."

What do we draw our attention to? The fate of the wedding dress can be like a beautiful sand mandala — all that work to create — then poof… gone… -- but how it is remembered, is as individual as each dress.

We heard Maya Angelou recite her poem.
It proves that a poem memorized can find different words,at a later date...
She replaced "haughtiness" by "sassiness"... "like" by "as if"... eyes by "lies"...
But still like life (instead of air..)
"wondrously" by "miraculously" --
In a way it is like watching a history of a life that prompted those changes.
"And so, naturally," she concludes, "I rise."

We ended on the simple wisdom of John Dryden.

As ever, I am so grateful for all the discussion!

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