Sunday, May 7, 2017

Poems for May 3-4

Gardens by Stephen Dobyns
Constructive by Heather McHugh
Hope by Lisel Mueller
The Map by Elizabeth Bishop
How Long Should You Look at the Earth’s Face? by Carolyn Miller
Still Lifes and Landscapes by Emily Wolahan

Rundel discussed the Wolahan, but not Pittsford.

The first poem comes from Dobyns last book of poetry, published in  2016:  The Day's Last Light Reddens the Leaves of the Copper Beech.  The poem is one of 16 sonnets in the second section which
all start the same way:  "The day I learned my wife was dying..."
It plunges the reader "in media res" -- without knowing at what stage the author is-- or his wife.
Is she still alive?  If she died, how long ago... ? although that is not the point of the poem.
The enjambed lines,  leaping over the white space of stanza break:
from stanza 1 to 2 : and once///  out there... (speaking of earth vs. universe)
from stanza 3 to the final couplet: impossible //// gardens   (what the mind constructs).

Certainly it affects the rhythm of the poem, but also sketches a feeling of trying to bridge
here to there.

Rundel's discussion included the idea of the positive attached to impossible, (Don Quixote's dreaming the impossible dream").  Both groups addressed awful as Awe-ful, the infinite -- and the push-pull of aiming for what is beyond known, and a sense of terror, being stuck there.  How does one strike a balance between the imagination and the reality that ensures that it sag, and "plop,/ there you are again, and everything's worse. "

Pittsford's discussion included the question of self-pity –  is it OK to feel awful?  
and Paul Simon's song, The Obvious child :  "some have run from themselves…"
Push pull... drama... it comes and goes...thought to art which can memorialize-- create impossible gardens and eternal health and laughter no matter what reality says.  

The next poem's title, Constructive, has layers of meaning tucked in... something positive; something constructed, in the process of being built... The juxtapositions -- hard/soft; pairs of things, and solo things (monocle, to sharpen and focus, eye patch to shut out); the surface currents that shape, and the shape of the medium we're in.  Who are the small beloveds caught in pails?  There is something delightfully child-like in the image...  From present tense  the soft hand in glove, the ocean floor is described as finished, "was done in lizardskin".  A home-decorating of whatever has been constructed...  

The small visible part of body goes to something bigger, deeper  (ocean, )
John was reminded of Picasso's  Woman throwing a stone...

Although the narrator is observing either an "understood you" or a more intimate "you",
the poems ends on a note of universal reciprocity -- when your hand takes, it also is given.

Hope is command -- which brings us to the Mueller poem.   Here, the word, hope, is only mentioned in the title, with the repeated anaphor, "It... first with verbs:  hovers, shakes, drops, explores, sticks...sprouts, lives... and then changes to nouns:  It is... motion, mouth, singular gift, serum, this poem.  My first reaction was to be attracted to it, followed speedily by shrugging at it, feeling it too "telling and commanding" at the end.  The discussion included comments such as, "it is singing a beautiful song, but somewhat off-key".
Some found it an  intelligent poem about life-force...  some disagreed about hope being  guaranteed as eternal, as argument that refutes death .  What about suicides?  It is lovely to be reminded not to despair, but despair does exist, but here, ignored.

The Map is one of Bishop's earliest poems.  We examined the structure -- the sound system
with the liquid l's,  the d's in land, shadows, edges, how shallows and shadows interchange..
the wide ee sounds of green, weed and the darker "un" tugging.  A bb A; C dd C followed by an unrhymed stanza; repeating in the sandwich rhyme pattern in the final stanza.
The map-maker determines how we see... and  map, as metaphor, for some perhaps seemed to be emotionalizing our place in the world.  I found this information:

"This poem appeared as a preface to Bishop’s first volume of poetry
 and as a preface to every volume of poetry thereafter. It is therefore
 a good introduction to Bishop, and lays out many of the themes she
wrestles with in her poetry. Some of these include liminal spaces
between the land and the sea and between the real and the imagination."

The last poem both groups discussed:  "How Long Should you Look at the Earth's Face?"
The title poses the question, which reminded me (not necessarily important) of how
our accented English language could put emphasis on each word and in fact ask a different question.  How long?  Should you?  Should you look?  at what?  Where are you to look at Earth's face --
above it, on it... what part of the "Map"? land, sea?
There are three "until's" -- which said as answer to a question sound very different than 
starting out a sentence, "Until you have memorized it... XXX with some injunction.

The usual trope,  "face of the earth" (and my mind goes to "being wiped off the face of the earth"
is quite different with the intimate sense of the Earth -- to quote our resident English professor,
"the title asks us to consider its features, as we would the face of a loved one. The tired old metaphor is thus reawakened, and I believe that its earlier somnolence makes this renewal more striking".

The poems itself embraces so much about relationship.  To the earth -- likening us to look at it, 
feature by feature, so we can remember like our mother's voice... but here I quote the poem completely,
as it is so perfect.  Does Mother Earth ask us, "Are you happy?"  It reminds me of "The Giving Tree" --
which reinforces the comparison of a good mother with Earth... giving us so much... 
The next "until" reminds us to be mindful of this generosity... the astonishment of life on Earth.
Finally, we are asked to remember that smell is one of our primal senses -- our brains operate on chemicals.
Emily was reminded of the painting at the MAG, Neil Wellinger... Dead Pine... (in a bunch of trees...)

Painting outside in winter is not a macho thing to do. It's more difficult than that. To paint outside in the winter is painful. It hurts your hands, it hurts your feet, it hurts your ears. Painting is difficult. The paint is rigid, it's stiff, it doesn't move easily. But sometimes there are things you want and that's the only way you get them.

Comments on the Wolahan to be made next week after the Pittsford group discusses it.

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