Friday, January 25, 2019

Poems for January 23

 Snow  (cinquain by Adelaide Crapsey)
Velvet Shoes  by Elinor Wylie
Full Moon  by Elinor Wylie
True Vine by Elinor Wylie
At the Hospital  "           "
Sonnet. - untitled. "      "

Judith  Judson prepared a "tract" on Elinor Wylie, born around the same time as Edna St. Vincent Millay, Louise Bogan and made the selection of the poems -- the Pittsford group had one more
 piece, Lament for Glasgerion.  Even Judith admitted, "it is hard to get the narrative"... 

Because Wylie had such an extensive vocabulary, which smacked of "Upper Class", often with archaic words -- (who says "forlorn" in the 20th century?)  a diamond-sharp wit with which to work impeccable form, she was not considered a poet who had more than a "thin theme" delicately

The idea of the session, started with Judith's reaction to "Silver Filigree", selected by the New Yorker as an old chestnut
in their end of 2018 issue of selected old favorites from long ago.  It’s wonderful that she shared her passion to  "rescue" Wylie from the misdirected  classification.  It confirms my belief  in diving deeply into someone who grabs your attention!  

Perhaps others in the group might follow suit,  sharing thoughts on a poet who grabs their attention, and diving deeper
than the one or two poems we get to.  The spirit of the  group invites everyone to participate, whether or not everyone does… honoring that all  ways of responding to a poem are valid… and two-way-street- beneficial!

The Rundel group (smaller, only 6)  loved the selections.  I shared the thought of Wayne Higby on "lenses" having
seen that when Judith gave us the background of Wylie, it colored the discussion, especially of Velvet shoes.
As David responded to Judith, the New Criticism shuns biography, as interfering with the poem--
but that is at the risk of establishing a different purist  noose.

"It was a fine overview, all the better for being a fine piece of writing in itself.  It’s great value for me is that it helps me to understand some of what goes on in the verse itself.  There’s always a fine line between allowing life-stories to illuminate verse and reading them into the verse, and it takes good discipline in reading to know the difference.  I was educated in the heyday of the New Criticism, which minimized and almost banished biographical context from literary interpretation, and a few of my grad school profs exemplified just why that was important.   I had to live a while before I realized that such a view sometimes made an important principle into a purist noose.  My own literary criticism, book and many articles, makes clear the amalgam that I have come to.
Anyhow, as you might have seen from my comments yesterday, I found what you told us about EW to help with reading her poems, confirming and  expanding significantly what I saw and sensed without that knowledge.  It also helps to explain some of her stylistic tendencies, worth understanding and appreciating whether or not they happen to be one’s “‘cup of tea.”
So thanks.  I’m pleased to read at leisure what I first heard with pleasure"

Rundel's  responses were deep, thoughtful, and every poem was respected before I shared any background.  

Velvet Shoes:  the ear immediately senses the sibilance, which supports a sense of peaceful quiet... like entering
a winter ballroom... One reader felt that the last stanza, "We shall walk in velvet shoes" flipped the balance away
from the power of those able to afford such shoes, inappropriate for winter, to nature providing us with her own
velvet shoes in this magical setting of a winter ballroom.  
There is no conflict in the meter, the orderly rhyme perhaps contributes to the reputation of Wylie as a charming writer, but with little pith in the theme.  One person felt the presence of a convalescent wandering out into the night, sleepwalking,
in her flimsy shoes.

Neither group felt this.  I am intrigued by the ambiguity of "we".  Is it lovers, one in silk, one in wool, therefore, 
of different classes?  Is it a message of the importance to tread softly, with rabbit feet?  Perhaps that could be
a message about the environment... or perhaps it is a commentary about how women need to behave?

I don't find this one as "frivolous" as the critics perhaps believe. The title is intriguing.  The shift from "Let us, to
"we shall, and what the walk in the white snow snow implies for someone with such a daring personality perhaps
is not to be meek and effaced, but rather, to face the cold, the loneliness, as resolutely and relentlessly as the repeated first and last 'line .  Then again, Judith proposed that seeing too much into the critics, defending Wylie as a bonafide poet as good as any modernist applauded at the time, could be like seeing Polish Nationalism in Chopin's Nocturnes!

Comments on Full Moon:
The title invites associations with myths of this moment when werewolves appear and howling madness heretofore hidden, dictates a dangerous lunacy.  The first stanza establishes grieving... unable to get what she wants.  The Harlequin,
as mute mime, lozenges with a hint of medicine, duality ... reduced to "rigmaroles".  The walking now, is accompanied by
rage.  A ravaged, skeleton, consumed by anger.  The repression of self, to meet  the duties of mourning where  rage is not allowed.  Perhaps referring to her first husband's suicide -- or her father's, or her brother's. 
Judith:  anger only emotion women not allowed to feel, but men. yes. 
David:  current situation in politics… problem of accepting aggressive women… 

True Vine:  the multiple-syllabled adjectives, refined vocabulary may well have stirred 
resentment against her as "one of those hoity-toity intellectuals" -- and yet, the sounds,
the well-chosen words... overtones of Eve, the sense of a problem with "truth" when demands
are made to appear "perfect".  Her poem is not "pretty" but has the substance of beauty --
the rich realm of contradictions, where trouble, noble (upbringing/act) comprise life .
Normally we say, "a pack of lies" -- but here we have the "pack of truth" -- like a raggedy
savage animal... 

At the Hospital:  a narrative criticizing  a scornful youth who shuns an "untidy" man in a shabby coat, who attempts to strike up a "tragic" comradeship.  Not easy to follow the thread... a sense of victim/rescuer -- and strange idea of clutching the "little (good) man" in order not to strangle the
comely (unmoved, contemptuous, cold, dull) and sleek one.  Note, the little man and the monosyllabic adjectives, "spent and grey" whereas  the sleek seems to hiss his nature through
the description of his lip -- silent, scornful.
The rhyme is still strong... but brilliant juxtaposition of rhymes:  comradeship/scornful lip; coat/throat
to juxtapose the two men.  
It's a sonnet, but shows  depth of feeling-- a radical departure from describing neutral ground like moons, snow, metaphorical vines. 

Sonnet (untitled)
Use of word, "Motley" as noun: an incongruous mixture... 
I     Again, the juxtaposition:  feather-witted / spitted as end-line... her INvulnerable joint... 4 historical novels... countless poems, publications, fine accomplishments... that provides her arrmor.

Pastiche:  imitation.. collage... people brought in a picture of the cocatrtice -- part dragon, part rooster... a fitting title for caricatures of composite animals... and the final spitted question:
"Is there not lacking from your synthesis / someone you may occasionally miss?

Indeed... having a chance to look at what happens in the craft-level of the poetry, allows an admiration for her skill. 


Thursday, January 10, 2019

Jan 9-10

Journey of the Magi, T.S. Eliot
The Magi. by W. B. Yeats, 1865 - 1939
Two Set Out on Their Journey. Galway Kinnell, 1927 - 2014
My Father as Cartographer by Natasha Trethewey, 1966
 Between Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice, Today by Emily Jungmin Yoon
elegy with linden tree three-years' dead still standing by Nina Puro

The Pittsford group profited from David's reading of the Eliot.   As he puts it, " I had been thinking and practicing this poem-- seeking to understand the feelings and changes of feeling, the recognitions and realizations in the speaker, and trying to get them into voice—over the last couple of weeks.  Once begun, the poem wouldn’t leave me alone. So, to have this work so richly affirmed is gratifying.  I did the work for myself of course, but I have always looked forward to sharing it, and how good it feels to have it so deeply shared.".  Indeed, hearing a poem recited by heart,
where the speaker has clearly invested himself into the voice, makes a tremendous difference.

The context of the poem: it paraphrases a 1621 sermon by Andrews… who humanized the Magi.  "what a helluvah journey…", we understand, as we listen to the  old man remembering… possibly dictating it to his scribes.  Why is he telling this story late in life?   
and  what questions does the poem raise for you?

I love the last line of the first stanza:  
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Imagine undertaking a journey, with no assurance that this new "king" will be found,
what kind of "new" is involved.  We all undertake quests...  but little information...
The words, arrived, "not a moment too soon" , and the understatement, "satisfactory"
also create a mystery of what expectations were involved.  The Magi's question,
"were we led all that way for Birth or Death?" is not an easy question.  Birth of the Christ,
with premonitions throughout the poem of his death -- the three trees, the old white horse (Indian
myth of sacrifice), the dicing for pieces of silver... death of the old ways, and promise of the new,
and ending with "I should be glad of another death."

The discussion in both groups was rich and rewarding.  Transformations are hard times... and yet,
we gain from them... and would go through them again because of the value of what we learn,
even knowing of the pain.  n possibly thinking about his own moral dislocation after WWI.  glad for another change.  Eliot did search for religion. Magi managed to survive revolutions…  reading stars… magistrates and magicians.  Had to leave older way of thinking.  Could be placed around the time of the crucifixion.  A little premature for the “good news” of Gospels
n humanizing: very much like Amahl and the Night Visitors.  poignant story… dealing with things way bigger than the narrative… delicacy…. 
n Martin: difficult.  key words. Magi. journey.  regrets. hard time of year. Guides disappear; light disappears…  Eliot using the story of the Magi… Why did they go on the quest.
n no mention of the gifts of the Magi.  Not emphasis on King.  Desescalate the legend.
n exploration into primitive Christianity… Jesus as healer… 
Magi like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. taken out of traditional play and made into characters with whom we can relate.

Paul, with his inimitable pluck and savvy then imitated WB Yeats to a T in the next poem.
Is "I" the outsider, as in today, witnessing a creche scene... again this word "satisfactory" but this time as turbulence unsatisfied. I should think Eliot knew Yeats' poem... both thinking of WWI...  both familiar with "bestiality."  The key word in the last line,  for me is "uncontrollable"... The universe has its own plan... 

Galway Kinnell:
contrasts:  odd / even
desolate / cheerful
happy / encumbering...  how is it that with a happy beginning, an unknown end, the time in between seems to be lumbering?
The key word, "If" -- which is no assurance at all... 
which is the new laughter that allows us freedom from being dead serious?

Everyone will live the life they have.  Each start a good one.  Open to it with "yes".
Respond with "thank you".

The Trethewey:  Indentations… services the message.  choppiness of mood.
Professor expounds territory… but at the end of his life, country of loss, colony of grief,
continent, desire, borderland regret... and joy is untethered... no guarantee there.
And the horrifying sous-entendu of a man's daughter who would be glad should he perish...
but what is monstrous, is to be two-faced -- the negative feeling unspoken, and the reader
doesn't know what masks them both.

Yoon:   Today is the key concept in the poem.  Short sentences.  A reminder that Korean is
a language based on tones.  The confusion of subjects -- who is "you"?  "I"?  "We"
From the five meanings of Chada, I think of a mother, expecting a child, kicking inside her...
The metaphors of the longer sentences... the cold, worn, going from Fall to the longest day 
of Winter... and yet... inside, in the heart, the "you" worn like curtains....  Lovely contrast of the two.

Nina Puro: The title and rest of poem evokes ruins of Germany.  the "seam" in the first couplet
like seeing a part of a garment... the key point of the poem for all was the subjunctive set up
of wishing "I meant enough" -- what was the photo?  Who or what was snipped out?
Why would the speaker of the poem have wanted to be in it?

Some though the "go on without me -- don't look back" was a courageous statement,
that was then, on we go.  (Damn the torpedos, full speed ahead).  Some interpreted it
as, "let me be here, left behind in my grief."  The poignant last couplet, reinforces the
sense of a defiant voice -- those who hear it may feel it as affirmation to continue to ignore her
whether in a positive or negative way.  

These are only thoughts culled from very rich discussions of the poems.
I am so grateful for each contribution!

Poems for Jan 16-17

two poems with illustrations:
-- The lines of poetry here are by Otto Rene Castillo, a Guatemalan poet murdered by the army there. The photo and handwriting are by Mary Anderson.

Winter Scene by Naomi Shaw (sketch by her son, John Wiesenthal)

Winter Scene — which is illustrated by this sketch:

A House Called Tomorrow  by Alberto RĂ­os
These Poems  by June Jordan, 1936 - 2002
Those Winter Sundays
Time to be the fine line of light  by Carrie Fountain
To the New Year by W. S. Merwin side by side with his poem, "For the Anniversary of my Death"
See  by Christopher T. Brown (son of Almeta Whitis)

As the Rundel group commented-- Each of the poems provide words for the wordless but important concepts that guide us to good living… 

We just received a New Year card from friends who have decided to trade in competing for collaborating, adopt contributing vs. consuming.  Each day presents us with choices...
and in some cultures is considered a separate life, started anew with each sunrise.
I love that poetry invites us to explore  collective experience and reflect on deep feelings.

The picture and lines by Otto Rene Castillo, hand-written by local Rochester photographer,
Marilyn Anderson remind us of the return of seasons... both physical, like Spring, and metaphorical, the season of hope.  

 Naomi Shaw provides a beautiful "sound-scape" of Winter: crackle of frost; silver drippings, “each twig resplendent  in its brittle rig”, aristocratic mien of birches in a winter scene.” –
the length of the longer words remain delicate with the liquid "r's" and regal L's.
Her son, John Weisenthal, mentioned that she worked with Walter Winchell… 

House called Tomorrow:
Like sermon  or baccalaureate address to a young person… but heard by whole congregation…  Reminded some of the tenets of Lao Tsu, and  a reminder  we are all connected… our choices determine what we bring to each day in ourselves… When you hear thunder,
hear it as the applause of those who came before you.
What is bad?  trouble?  Genetics... society... and are our options for good only to write books, cure disease... what makes a person proud?  How do you choose the words that become your own?
We discussed at length the merits of the poem in terms of the simple language, the trustworthy
tone... but at first blush, not particularly poetic in terms of craft.  It is approachable, appealing,
and as Elaine said, the discussion about it was as rich as one about a poem that pulls out all the poetic stops.

These Poems… written for whoever you are… intimate sharing of what it’s like to write poetry… Do you know how to respect “the other” –
what’s involved with “worship”… learning to worship as stranger, (not knowing what future self we will be) or the the strangers around the self.  
We are all process… starting in “the dark”... the river of words catch on lines,
like arms for longing and love.
Lovely progression from a long first stanza...  to the shorter second stanza with the metaphor of the flow and cycle of water and the difficulty of catching a thought, working it into a poem that will
have meaning for whoever might read it...  

The reverence in Hayden’s poem, echoes a sense of  sacrifice in getting ready for church… 
It isn't only the last line that resonates-- but the last line of each stanza.  We discussed
chronic anger... (either with the overtone of how it feels to be black in America, or the universal complexity of anger and its effect on children) the "no one ever thanked him" -- a short sentence that prepares  the cold splintering  in the next stanza.  How can we "drive out the cold" so that we know something
 "of love’s austere and lonely offices" before it's too late? 
Can be read both with the layer of the world as a black man in America

Time to be the fine line of light… we read between the lines… try to understand the fine line between difference/similarity… metaphor of blinds… the light
comes in through the slats….  the blinds… and the sill as resting spot. 

The structure of the poem is like blinds... accentuated by line breaks, where the words fall
through  to the start of the next couplet. -- the same metaphor of words/water:
All I want /
is to be the river though I return

again and again to the clouds. 

All I want…. 3 times... each time different.  The first, all I want... as in "lack" perhaps... or being something one isn't.  Then, self-evaluating and realizing she needs to think about wanting...    and
the impossibility of  knowing such a largeness, which confirms wanting  the moment at hand is enough.  to be... to practice being, are given a spotlight in the lineation.
to be/
the fine line.  to practice being
the line…

Merwin:  side by side:  
I found the idea of an anniversary of a death coupled with a meditation on the light of "new"
whether it be a "new year" or a "new day", helpful.
To the New Year sounds like an Ode, but as Kathy pointed out, it isn't, and comes from
Merwin's book, Present Company published in 2005,  where each poem starts with "To  xyz"
 Calendars are arbitrary… Merwin starts with a look at the stillness of the New Year,
arriving at morning… whether you see it or not…  The poem ends  on hopes, "invisible, untouched,
Both poem are infused with his humility… and inspire a sense of awe…
The suspended lines allow meaning to slide in several directions of meaning, 
for instance:
your first sunlight reaching down   (the new year's start...)
to touch the tips of a few                (a few (people)... then line break... a few high leaves)                        
high leaves that do not stir /
so this is the sound of you              (how do you hear "hush" ? silence? a new year?)
here and now whether or not      (is here and now the sound, or the adverb?  does it contrast
                                                    here and now /with whether or not?   It's as if several things
                                                    are happening all at once.)
add the next line:   "whether or not/anyone hears you at all." and the meaning shifts.
and again, anyone hears you at all.  This is --and again...

We discussed at length how to understand an "anniversary of my death" spoken by a living person.
   this poem was written in early January – 1967 – and appears in his book,  The Lice.
from Stillness to Sound:   

The ending lines are coupled with "and no longer surprised"
As today writing after three days of rain      (3 r’s in the names with in hearing: rain. writing, wren 
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease 
And bowing not knowing to what

Reverence... gratitude...

The final poem, written by a Christopher Brown in 1988, when he was 23, is a hopeful statement
of inspiration:  

We discussed the ending, and if the final stanza supported the message.  Just know.... 
and the reader will fill in the blank...?  Just know what?  
It was suggested:  "Know your sense of purpose--  Know everything that I’ve just said to you."
I don't know what to say to you
But watch close where you go
Don't be blind on roads to come
Just be sure and know