Friday, May 15, 2020

Poems for May 13

Correspondence by Jericho Brown
On Angels by Czeslaw Milosz
Quarantine by Eavan Boland
Lines Written on a 30th Anniversary —  Eavan Boland
Twilight Time  by Jerl Surratt
On the Edge of Time  by Marc Harshman
The poems for May 13 include a sampling :
Jericho Brown, who just received the Pulitzer for poetry for his collection Traditions;   
Eaven Boland, who passed away April 27.  It seemed timely to include her poem about the 19th c. Irish Famine which appeared in her 2001 collection, Code.  
 the 2020  winner of the Tor House Poetry Prize as well as one of the Honorable Mentions for the 2019 Prize.
This site will provide you with many pleasurable hours of reading.  I love the quote on the masthead by Robinson Jeffers, (1887-1962) the California Poet honored by the Tor House foundation:
It is curious that sometimes flower-soft verse/ is sometimes harder than granite/ tougher than a steel cable,/more alive than life.
 Jeffers  preferred nature to man because he felt that the human race was too introverted, that it failed to recognize the significance of other creatures and things in the universe
Jericho Brown: The “other side of a body”  is a novel way of referring to a self,
both as a place, but also in time — the place “where I have never been/ shot…which we thought referred to the innocent time of childhood (children, hard/to kill comes later).  The poem is rife with possibilities as sentences in the present tense refer back to a time past.  It ends with the striking image of how he has prepared a place for "you" -- possibly, the you of reader, the you who could correspond to him (both in letters, and in terms of being relatable to him, a corresponding human) I love how the sentences could be parsed from masked pauses like the 4th to 5th line:  "I have to go back this far in order/to present... (as in present tense presentation) as a whole being... Brown could have ended there, but enjambs a further idea of this whole being -- not unique in itself, but broken by the line break, as a being "you'd heed and believe in."
Who is this "you"?  
We discussed the word "penetration" -- with sexual implications but also possibly a knife or bullet piercing the skin.
We also discussed the "sweet"... the implications of pacifying a child... but what kind of crying?  We have just had the shock of reading, "The young are hard for you // TO KILL."  
It helps to know more about his work and the reference to the Jerome Project.  See background below.

Czeslow Milosz : We admired the conceit of angels... perhaps in the first stanza, hinting that they are not sacred messengers, but
all of us have a capability of being so.  Who do you trust if you are Czech in the 2nd world war, or occupied by Russia afterwards?
We picked up on a political overtone... If in stanza 4, he says "humans invented themselves", that is a perfect correspondence with inventing the idea of angels... but the poem does not delve into this but rather speaks of The voice -- which although not a capital V voice, has celestial power, weightless as it is.  We loved the parenthetical (after all, why not?)... say lightening as verb, not a noun.
Usually we expect angels to help us do things.. but here, the angels turn the tables to remind us "to do what you can."  Simple, prosaic, instructions with no grand orders or expectations.

Eavan Boland: Two of her poems, both of which came from Against Love Poetry.  Kathy shared the content of the poems listed below.
Paul, in abstentia said this about the selection of poems: "All poetry is philosophical, full of love of wisdom, imparted or absorbed. 
As for  Quarantine he mentioned An Gorta Mor (the Great Famine ) 1845-50.  He find the poem " a harsh and beautiful love story set in abject-ness, the hopeless trudge to escape starvation, an gorta mor, of mid nineteenth century Ireland. So many unrecorded things, so many acts of love given and gone. A million others would follow them in death in and out of love. Eavan Boland, RIP."

Read aloud, we were sensitive to the sounds of the w's in the first stanza, the repetitions of worst hour/worst season...
The fragments in the third stanza and repeat of last heat / last gift.  In her reading, she does not pause on the word
"inexact" and the sudden line break to "praise", but the visual impact of the enjambment puts a stress on "inexact",
in the middle of the quite precise details.  She pronounces "inventory" the Irish way with the accent on inVENT...
The sibilance of Merciless disguises the cruelty... she has told us, "there is no place here for easy graces and sensuality".

Kathy reminded us that she distinguishes between "history" and "Past".  History, with its chronicled dates might appear in books, but the "past" lies in personal human stories.  This poem touches us by this short glimpse of a last night before
death and  the last haunting line.  Which darkness indeed, in this litany of death, suffering, how they were forced to live,
their life as man and woman... 

 Lines Written:  There was a typo after the final period.  No quotation mark is there.
We discussed the dashes, the repeat form of a line ending with a colon speaking of the outside rain.  Then small glimpses of the people inside and how they were being worn away.  The description of the rain, like small diversions.  After the second  colon-- "It happened under our lives:" are short bursts:   the rain,/the stone.  We hardly noticed.   Then the final lead to the colon after "to wonder:"
The constancy of weather,  and of a couple enduring.  But she arranges it perfectly with the final colon after
 this constancy.  There is no parenthetical addition between dashes; the reader is left with the lingering sense of "what wears, what endures."

Jerl Surratt:  I was pleased that Rose Marie shared the expertise she and Tony have with keeping bees.  She confirmed that all that is mentioned in the first three stanzas is indeed evocative of bee season. Everyone enjoyed the poem.   We noted the ratios between this year and last...the diminishment,  understated in "no plague of purple martins" ... the tone shifts, again those w's . "what I'm growing... watching... way to wish them well... Everywhere..." line and stanza break...  and he winds the remainder of a complex sentence over four lines...
bees -- and he, a human being, at the "threshold of personal nonexistence", that "vast-enough catastrophe". 

Marc Harshman:  Jan noted that he gives us a broad hint by noting "After Reverdy".  On the Edge of Time is the English of "Au bords du Temps"  which experiments with cubist technique, seeing "the sublime simplicity of reality."  I am afraid Reverdy's short poem even though accurately translated by Lydia Davis has fewer overtones than  Reverdy's poem "Afternoon"  where there is also a rooster, a bridge, a ruined wall . Harshman's  beautiful poem flows like Debussy's piano piece, "revêrie" or dream.  We pondered who the "animal without feathers" could be.[1] It is a lovely poem exploring time... The I and You suggest a love poem in Spring.  However, there is no such reference in Reverdy.  What the 21st century American and 19th century French do share however, is a sense of dream... that state of timelessness... 

[1] Plato was applauded for his definition of man as a featherless biped, so Diogenes the Cynic “plucked the feathers from a cock, brought it to Plato’s school, and said, ‘Here is Plato’s man.’ ” When asked about the origin of his epithet, cynic deriving from the Greek word for dog, Diogenes replied that it was given to him because he “fawns upon those who give him anything and barks at those who give him nothing.”

Background links:
sent to those present 5/13:
For references today:
Thinking of Kent State, 50 years ago… the 13 seconds that ended 4 lives…and Martin Luther King’s speech 3 years prior, “King:  If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality and strength without sight.” 
Correspondence by Jericho Brown
title:  dual meaning : a close similarity, connection, or equivalence; exchange of letters; for more about the Jerome Project:

Eavan Boland
Kathy shares this about Eavan Boland and kindly added texts and minutes.
The first 2 poems she reads are:
   "Quarantine"   text
   “The Science of Cartography is Limited” about the the famine roads   text

Oher poems she reads: 
daughter    "The Pomegranate"   (at minute 6:17)        text at
marriage   “Thanks Be to Fortune”  (at minute 13:50)
mother     “An Elegy for My Mother in Which She Scarcely Appears” minute 18:56  text  

Thank you Jan for suggesting Afternoon as well as the  On the Edge of Time  by Reverdy — both translations here by Lydia Davis  are good.

You might enjoy comparing how Harshman takes the words (whether from the original French or the translation) as springboard!— 

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