Thursday, June 1, 2017

Poems for May 31

The Soul’s Soundtrack by Yusef Komunyakaa
this example of an erasure poem: 

(This Land is Your Land...)

And So the Skin . . . by Peter Cole 
May by Jonathan Galassi
What I Learned From My Mother by Julia Kasdorf
The Last Bohemian of Avenue A  by Yusef Komunyakaa 

Komunyakaa, the NY State Poet Laureate, captures music in both his poems, but what was especially striking was the richness he created weaving music, the South, and a sense indeed of the soul throughout centuries in the first poem.   I looked up the "extinct Lord God bird" which received its name, according to this article,  as people would say, "Lord God, what a bird".  What remains?  What is handed down from ancestors?  I googled more about this bird, apparently sighted in 2005, and thought of the sentence about how we ensured its extinction by felling down the trees in the woods stretching from Tennessee to Arkansas.  "This has been the symbol of what we did wrong.".  The soul doesn't sing about that, but in the poem,  we hear it by association with names of musicians. 
I enclose the link which shows a river, information about the Lord God Bird (Ivory-billed woodpecker) and its habitat.

I looked up "Church of Coltrane" which actually exists, and reminds us of Coltrane's recovery from alcohol and heroin.
  Judith brought up two amazing "enrichments" -- one of which is the urban dancing called "Flex'n", where part of you is dancing with your ancestors...
( break dancing btw, is as not a modern thing, but over a hundred years old... ).  A longer explanation (18 min.)  You Tube:
 wiki site:

Her other association was with Nicodemus the slave and the words of that song.

I am grateful to the group as well as google, which picked up on the references... and experiences such as hearing Sweet Emma, in her 80's playing the piano, like a soul soundtrack... 

The next poem , And So the Skin, was read using only one voice.  What is as interesting as the poem to me, were the comments ... It is a difficult poem and as some confessed it hard to access, two others seemed prompted to use "obviously" as antidote: one person saw it as a poem of intimacy, another as a poem about racism.  However,  since we know "obvious" is not the territory of a good poem, perhaps it was all in good sporting fun as we rose to the challenge of trying to understand its complexity.  We progressed from "I'm really not getting this poem at all", to "I'm not understanding this poem as well as I'd like to" which seems more inviting for careful probing.  One idea was that the poem sketches a sense of the porousness between the world and the self...   The language, "And so..." as point of departure both in title and first line intimates knowledge we don't have  about what happened before skin,  and how this and pounded hearts wind into
an image of " a badge
                  or talisman,
that canceled  
almost all their blindness—."
The poem is pleasing to the ear -- the rhyming of "faucet" and "across it"; the sound of
drive itself  almost repeated in a slower "derived"...
The contraction of "is"  slows the reader down to do a double take:  "'s/inadquate;"
"as the sunlight's suddenly on my back,
and now the skin along it's warmer,"

the skin of the sunlight... skin of the back... suggests a  transfer of warmth.
Linkage is another aspect of the theme: ... a sense of species (one kind)  procreated -- echoing heart  (kindness) with the "kind of outer skin you have that defines you by holding your shape".  One as "solo" -- unable to survive. 

What is the "it" in this passage:  (water has it, flowing) ?
"creation's linkage depending
                                    on a drive itself          
         derived from a kind of kindness   
or desperation, the sense that one's
                                    at any rate

the space for time—

water has it, flowing"

Finally "black swan" also brings associations. The black swan theory or theory of black swan events is a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight.  This prompted  Judith to bring up the story of Leo Slezak,
the Tenor famous for his comment in Lohengrin when the stagehands pulled the swan onto the stage without him.  He is reported to have said, "When's the next Swan" -- which happens to be the title of the book his son Walter wrote, to speak about the 10-page letters his father wrote  that could not be sent during the Second World War.

Erasure poetry:
If you take the song "This land is your land, this land is my land" and compare the process of the Michael Harper poem that uses the technique of erasure, and add "Standing Rock", one is compelled to ponder about what land IS.  The 3rd column repeats 4 lines  "Land is land" -- followed by
"land is a dust cloud
chanting forgotten".
The blithe folk tune turns into a lament for the loss of respect for nature, for Native American traditions perhaps,
or a reminder that land belongs to no one much as nations  pretend it does.

Marna brought up Jen Bervin's work,  "Nets" where she  takes Shakespeare Sonnets... prints the sonnet faintly and highlights in bold type the words isolated from it.  

Galassi's poem, "May" is a satisfying read, not needing discussion.  
I love his "used-up, feather-duster look" to describe blossoms;  the fact that Ivyis  having "a reconnaissance campaign", as well as providing a loamy tea-mulch, "rank with interface of rut and rot." He cleverly, (not irritatingly) end-rhymes "rot" -- the only end-rhymed -word-- 

(The month after the month they say is cruel is followed by a Hamlet-esque 
"is and is not").

"What I learned from my mother" we read line by line, which worked very well, especially for
the enjambments.

We examined tone of such lines as, "and flick out the sexual seeds with a knife point."   
and "the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch." 
 It's a great subject : what do we learn, and how do we continue traditions of our mothers -- whether willingly, or subconsciously?
What is generosity, service?  How do we deal with death?  What is burden, and what is service that provides satisfaction that helps us do this necessary thing beyond the burden...   
We could have produced a book with helpful information such as:
Modesty is really about proportion... how much is being generous, and how much a sense of satisfaction in oneself?
You can’t just say “I’m not going to do this...”  and think that will work.  The only way to escape errors of other family members is to say what it is you are going to do...
reactivity keeps you tightly bound...
it's easy to repeat errors – because we don’t look at the “right thing...”

John recited  "Polyanna’s Lament...

We closed with the excerpt from the book-long poem in progress by Komunyakaa.
The words in bold brought out rich discussions.

Sometimes one craves an epic
to unravel, to untangle the years
& follow tributaries into the cave.
I’m only another ragged footnote
to a blues crossing the Atlantic.
I’m here to unlock the shackles
holding skeletons under the sea,
& I can’t say how this happens
when I’m sweating up there.
If I did, I could never blow
jubilation, saying, Hush, child,
don’t you say a mumbling word.
Now, with my body on the block
I say to all you youngbloods,
I dig playing the Candlelight,
how everyone listens to what ties
gutstring to hidden rafters.

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