Friday, September 29, 2017

Poems for September 27-28

What times are these?
asks Archimedes
and Pascal publishes thoughts*
Pope will repeat as wrought
iron condemnation of man's folly.
See the "elected one" parrot Polly
calls "sack of shit" and if sack of shit
indeed, he will never know it.

Email note to both Rundel and O Pen:
*Quelle chimère est-ce donc que l’homme ? Quelle nouveauté, quel monstre, quel chaos, quel sujet de contradiction, quel prodige I Juge de toutes choses, imbécile ver de terre ; dépositaire du vrai, cloaque d’incertitude et d’erreur ; gloire et rebut de l’univers"

“What a chimera then is man! What a novelty! What a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, feeble earthworm, depository of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error, the glory and the shame of the universe".

Interesting that “rebut” is translated as shame (as the opposite of glory);  Some translators use “scourge”;  “cloaque” is more “cesspool” than sink—which needs more “ mire" and stinking bog…  — and please don’t lose the “imbécile” for the  "feeble earthworm".  
There are so many wonderful poems… it is hard to choose — I recommend (as did David) this article on Merwin:
You might want to keep last week’s  Elly Bookman poem in mind as you read the one below, published in the Aug. 21 issue of the New Yorker. 
I put two references, one from the New Yorker,  after the poem by Xavier Zamora, thanks to Jan.

Poetry allows us indeed, to quote Frost, “a momentary stay against confusion” our human nature provides…. Enjoy this week’s line-up!

Privilege  by Elly Bookman
The Day I Saw Barack Obama Reading Derek Walcott’s Collected Poems by Yusef Komunyakaa, 1947
and links to other poems: 
Wind   by  James Arthur
The Listeners  by Walter De La Mare
The Sin of Pride                 (by John Koethe)
The War in Colors[k1]    by Dunya Mikhail
-- with a nod to Dunya Mikhail

For the first poem, the feeling was someone looking at planes, practicing for war… confirmed  in the penultimate sentence. Some picked up on the judgmental tone in what the poetess wasn’t looking at…"Instead of” can have that kind of  ring to it.  Yet, it's not necessarily a question of "this" as an obligation versus, blame for having done "that". 
 Some responded to the comparison of planes passing "like tired stars" as another "instead of" -- shouldn't stars arouse amazement?  Even old stars, worn out stars have seeds of what inspires "radical amazement", to quote Martin.  Fatigue... instead of connecting to others, she watches and judges... Instead of saying something, she uses the privilege of lying in the sun and turns away.  We discussed "browner", which can have a skin color/racial undertone that would be missing from "more tan". 
 We parsed the last sentence… how it layers into double meanings each line:
I’m afraid (real fear, vs. dismissive, “sorry to say” tone)
I’m finally all right (which doesn’t seem possible when we arrive at “good things in me have died— and certainly begs the question what “being all right” means —protected by indifference?
knowing good things (by itself, a good thing)
in me have died (connection to what surrounds us — how it affects us)

She doesn't say what is "still living in her".  In the poem last week, she confesses to recognizing the "soldier" part in her... 
this takes another angle -- would she feel that way if she were not of the class she is, if she were not a citizen in a country
the practices for war?  
What does it means to have privilege..   (possibility to choose to be passive?  to be allowed to observe and make commentary?   We all enjoyed the challenge she gave us.

We didn’t spend a lot of time on the Komunyakaa — many did not  know  Derek Walcott, the parallel with what it means to be black  in the history of America… but even without knowing each detail packed into this poem, the sense of "doubleness" comes through: a President and Poet, both black; both knowing a history of slavery... the economics
of property, privilege, symbols on our dollar bill, the word "crooked" used for light on Wall Street; Biting, not into an apple,
temptation, but into memory-- and words that probe into what it is to be human -- the responsibility of one man, as President to look at all angles.  The image of the octopus is great… how an octopus hides behind ink… and how it uses its 8 arms… imagine all that can be written!  One person mentioned the octopus is a symbol for big oil.

We talked about the tone of the Zamora — how it’s not easy for an adult to re-create the innocence of a child… I love the mirroring of the “secret” — not to tell anyone he’s leaving… 
and the repeated (I’m going to see my parents!)… The tone is intimate, and arouses sympathy.  We spoke a bit about  how our culture seduces people to abandon way of life often linked to the land…the dream of strawberries all the time...
the chance to play... 

Everyone loved how “Wind” was anthropomorphized!  We can relate to “I’m nothing … /until I happen
not just “until I happen to xyzzy…”.  What a personality this wind!  We noted how it makes a crescendo… 
and how quietly it can touch -- rather like the Listeners, where "silence surges softly backwards".  However, this poem with the lines blowing about is  joyful.  

Walter de la Mare:   Many liked The Listeners,  best, perhaps because it is already familiar , perhaps also for the honor in full-filling an promise.    Night can be filled or empty depending upon a person's perspective.  It came up how we have lost the sense of darkness due to light pollution... just as we have lost the sound of horse hooves which are felt so keenly in this poem..  To many, the poem  speaks of coming and going, from past to present, moments in a life that need resolving. Was it enough for the traveler  even though he received no response?  Regarding
 "that one man left awake" -- many related to the "voice in our head"... The idea that there are listeners, even if we can't see them is comforting...

For the Koethe,  we felt somewhat distracted by the “almost” rhyme —and  the light treading on a large subject.
Perhaps a diatribe against confessional poetry.  All out stories sound alike... nothing to reveal or hide?
A little more depth of inner, personal worlds might correct that.

After the poem "The War in Colors", Marcie shared the annual Civil War enactment in Angelica …  A father and son were looking 
at the reenactment of the actual fighting and the Dad said, " look at that – knocked over like bowling pins"… and laughed…
How would that influence the son, who copied his father, and also laughed?
why re-enact… if relive period OK… but not re-enact the war… )

how many beautiful, blue-sky days  have been ruined by bombs… and how have we contributed to the desire to use them?

I think you could guess that the final poem was mine — showing how to go deeper into Dunya Mikhail’s poem.

 [k1]Mikhail  + her note : “Twenty years after I left my country (Iraq), I returned in the summer of 2016 to interview Yazidi people who escaped Daesh (for the sake of writing my new book). One of the survivors pointed to his village on a big map on the wall. He mentioned that these colors of nature on the map, in reality, turn to one color, the color of dust. Then later when a journalist colleague showed me a digital map of U.S. military bases in the area, the poem turned on like a light.”
—Dunya Mikhail

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