Thursday, February 16, 2017

Poems for February 8-9

For Once, Then, Something by Robert Frost
Spaces by Jenny Johnson
The Chance by Arthur Sze
“Home” by Warsan Shire
Dear Mother of Three by Wanda Schubmehl

utube of Robert Hayden reading his poem, “Frederick Douglass”
the poem:

Usually I am good about taking notes, about what each class says...
on the computer, or the copy the library makes at Rundel... It is now a week since the discussion...
no notes. Only the poems.
I can't even remember what our Frost specialist had to say... so bear with me.
What is my role as moderator,but to keep people on task with the poem...

The first poem, 15 lines, has an enigmatic title, repeated again to close the poem.
"Truth? A pebble of quartz? For once, then, something."
The general idea of looking over well curbs, becomes specific, on line 7 with the word, "once".
Perhaps he makes fun of the poet, the head wreathed in the reflection, with puffs of clouds. The "once" arrives when -- "for once", he looks with the intent of seeing something beyond himself.
He peers into the well, and sees "a something". Line 10, "Something" repeats and "then" is included: "Something more of the depths—and then I lost it."
The "something" then seems to be lying at the bottom of the well -- which only a drop from a fern
shakes -- and the lovely consonant clusters of "bl-bl" blurred, blotted, turn into the breathy "wh" asking "what was that whiteness".

I loved that everyone applied themselves hard to imagine the scene-- and also "beyond and through" the scene, knowing the poem is more than a description. Some were reminded of the Escher print,
which captures 3 worlds in a puddle -- a fish below the surface, reflections on the surface of what lies above. What is truth but something as slippery as water, whose ripples make it hard to discern. What a boring poem it would be to set out to talk about truth. Instead, a brief haiku-like "once"
with a hint (undefined) at a consequence.

It seemed the perfect prelude to the next poem, "Spaces" where the poet confides she originally wanted to write a poem of witness, but realized "the more honest poem was the one about what a witness can’t know about another person’s experience.”

The short enjambed lines, give a staccato energy of suspense. "I do not know how"... could easily be completed by the words "it happened"...
"... but I keep" -- could be completed by "thinking about her screaming"...
When help comes, and she tries to explain "I found her there after the--..."
the victim interrupts her. We will never know exactly what happened.

The lesson spills out-- yet by calling into question the value of poetry to convey it, confirms the nature both of poems and the complexity of feelings.

Arthur Sze's poem also contains enigma...
What to make of this:
"And as I approach thirty, the distances
are shorter than I guess?"
(going 30 miles an hour, not age 30, we presume). The doubling of language: ironwood, hardens and hardens... passion grows and grows, the desire for "clean white light" -- a bit like Frost's
"something" also blurred when seen reflected in the well, although here is is the x-ray .
His parallels of desire for passion create a sense of urgency that I don't sense in the Frost who creates a scene of "wondering".
Frost uses longer lines with enjambement which contrast with Sze's shorter self-contained lines:
I want a passion that grows and grows.
To feel, think, act, and be defined
by your actions, thoughts, feelings.

Chance... "once" when we are given a moment to "see" or understand, something that seems to "shine".

The problems right now of having a President who didn't seem to be aware of Frederick Douglass brought me to share the wonderful Robert Hayden poem, delivered with the poet's gentle voice.
The other issue of refugees made Warsan Shire's poem quite timely. "no one leaves home" becomes the anaphor that morphs into all the choices no one would make unless desperate. Powerful, authentic.
The poem left all of us with chills, especially closing as it does with "home" picking up the refrain :leave.
"no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here"

The letter written to the mother could also be like witnessing a crime, as in the poem "Spaces".
One person felt it was written more for the writer than for the reader or the family in question. Therapy writing is to alleviate some all consuming emotion or helplessness towards a person/situation.
Regardless, we all felt it was very powerful with its intimate, emotional tone. The only exception noted by one participant were
the first two lines especially and later, "I cannot pick you up......although I'd like to." which stood out for her as distant or casual.

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