Friday, April 21, 2017

Poems for April 19-20

Commercial Break by Lianne Kamp
Down – provided by J.P. Brennan
Passerby, These are Words by Yves Bonnefoy
I Belong There by Mahmoud Darwish
Nothing Twice by Wislawa Szymborska (1923 – 2012)
Greece by Billy Collins
On Rhyme by Billy Collins

The first poem had been slated for last week but we ran out of time. In the Pittsford group, it prompted a discussion of empathy exhaustion, and how we respond to the news and chose how debilitated we want to become.
What makes a good poem? In this one the group felt the language and diction, elements of surprise, sense of paradox,
perhaps because of the subject were missing. Judith mentioned the Norm Davis poem, "When the Circus Came to Auschwicz and brought up some of Millay's "obligated war poetry"... In the Rundel group, we discussed the word
"break", how many ways it can be understood -- as a pause, a distraction from work, as a break-up in relationship,
and the line-breaks in the poem. How we use commercials as distractions-- and the play of "Ad" with "Add" but since only a few people had the poem in front of them, we did not discuss for long.

Down, we had discussed in Pittsford the week before.

The next three pose the usual problems of translation. It is hard to imagine the original French, Arabic and Polish... and without knowing who is the translator, impossible to know what decisions were made in terms of
rhyme, meter sound. I did find "pieces" of the Bonnefoy which seem to reflect the original.
I have no knowledge of the Darwish original, but Elaine brought up his poem "Prison Cell" which corroborates
the power of the imagination to help survive impossible situations.
How does "Here become There" -- in the case of the first, the ghosts speaking to those still living;
in the case of the Darwish, the "there" the "panorama of his own making in the deep horizons of his word to create "home". What is it to "own" something -- to be free to imagine it, as in the case of the prison guard who
looks at his poet-prisoner and envies him.

Passerby, These are words, has the title "Planches courbes" in French, published in 1999. Literally
"curved planks" which contains the oxymoron of rigid, linear planks and circular, rounded lines. It is hard
not to think of Charon's boat, with the dead whispering from the underworld through the rubbed-out names
of the cemetery gravestones. All agreed that the poem left a mysterious and haunting feel, more powerful
than the intellectual gleanings of a poem, understanding that Bonnefoy was writing this with the thought in mind of death of the Ideal, Art and pushing Nietzche’s idea of “God is Dead”.

I looked at the third stanza and feel there is a different layer than what is translated: The "fainter sound" the dead know, is followed by the subjunctive -- the desire and wish "that the Ideal be" a gathering force so that the whispering the dead convey the sense of this “Ideal” warmed and focussed for the living who are "blind/light" still able to gaze on it... Perhaps a further paradox... we are blind to what is buried, yet pay attention, perhaps a different slant to the translation of “regard” which can be translated as “gaze”...

I am not a Bonnefoy scholar. I found the poem from the Poem Hunter. How do we understand "untangle your alarms"--
it seems that the alarms cannot sound, if "tangled"...and yet untangling is to "make sense", which seems impossible for the living. For the second stanza, the living (happy) bee, seems to profit from the flowers on graves...
the real sound of branches, for the silent, unseen "gold" -- of beauty, truth, faith perhaps?

The Szymborska poem, translated by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak has a delightful tone to it.
Indeed, "One cannot step twice into the same river"... and applied to this life-- this is our one-time chance,
not a practice session. There's a hint of "gather ye rosebuds as ye may" in the 5th stanza... A Rose? A Rose (said twice!) What could that be? In otherwise, can a rose be both flower and rock? And how do we imagine rock?
Something crumbling into falling petals of stones? Something emerging in one form, finishing in another?
Her advice to accept the present, without fear and sorrow might be helpful to Bonnefoy's ghosts... In terms of
our emotional attachments and relationships we must remember no two people are alike... an easily forgotten concept.
Particularly pleasing rhyme: bliss is : kisses... and there too, no two kisses, or nights thereof can be the same...

I did read aloud Billy Collins take on "The Present" -- and sent it with next week's poems.
His tone and play of easy-going lines seems like "fluff" but usually tinge on some deeper factor.
His imagination of a vacation in Greece, anthropomorphizing ancient columns "taking their time to fall apart..." some with "nervous looks on their faces" carries on to a reverse process of people behaving as pillars -- tossing beach balls, also "teetering in the sunlight"... note the hotel is on a cliff... and deaf to this, building castles of love or of sand, the poet enters with his two lines reminds us with a metaphor of a megaphone that captures the sound play of "the whispering lips of death", before charging into the waves, joining the fray...
Is it irritating or delightful or both? How deeply do we want to respond to history, aging?
Marcie noted the double use of "which" -- a more prosy use of language...
"which descended on the grass and the disheveled stones.

Which is precisely how the bathers appeared ...
Judith chalked it up to a transitional use... the sunlight on the teetering pillars to the grass and disheveled stones... without saying the sunlight was descending on teetering and disheveled bathers... and yet making the point. (pairing of poem with a visual response.)
As part of T’s ongoing series, the artist Christian Marclay, best known for his film montage “The Clock,” responded to this poem by Billy Collins, with the above photo: a Ginko Leaf (one of the oldest trees)and a Q-tip on a road with a yellow line...

The final poem, which is the title poem of "The Rain in Portugal, refuses to rhyme at all-- and yet we recognize
"a stitch in time saves nine"; the calendar jingle, which he refuses to repeat in order; the hat is not available for the cat, but becomes a French chapeau or English Trilby; I did recite the tamer version of the old men from Nantucket and what they do with their bucket... and who could miss "row, row, row your boat"..
the Rain in Spain falls mainly on the plains...

Rhyme is fun, but so is breaking its rules... and we are back to not stepping into the same river twice,
knowing, no matter what our mothers say, we will do what we will do... in the case of the boys by the harbor with the swaying fishing boats, they do not ask the rain to go away, (or come again another day)but to go out to play.

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