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Some notes I may use for the personal statement: [30 Sep 2005|04:39pm]
In reference to short essay on Forche's "The Colonel":

I like Kenneth Lincoln's essay on this poem very much, but several times he mentioned the "failure of language" to directly describe this experience. This was frustrating me because while, yes, language has lots of failings, but its failure often breeds success elsewhere. Maybe it would be better if we clarify the sense of failure that seems most important here. And that is not that failure is equivalent to a lack of success; rather, the failures of language are limitations. Often people (and art) experience successes that wouldn't have been achieved without limitation. This goes back to the discussion of form that I had with Mehul all those months ago. The best singers, and by this I mean the singers who move us most (at least, outside of the opera), tend not to be those who have voices that are beautiful per se. The best singers tend to be singers who are limited by an inability to hold a note, strike a pure tone, hit a high F or have voices so supple they can trill like birds. I'm thinking about Billie Holiday in particular, but there are others, including my favorite rock singer, Stephen Malkmus.

Finally, Kenneth hints at the point I'm trying to make: "In so failing, the simile breaks a frustrated silence beyond itself."

On Sunflower Sutra:

Whenever I read poetry, I read it aloud. That is, if I can help it at all. I want to feel the words in my mouth, see the words on the page, and hear my own voice giving voice to the words--all at the same time. I want that experience, and I don't feel like I've gotten my dollar's worth if I don't get it. So, after I read this poem aloud, I pointed out to my boyfriend Vipul that the whole first section is one sentence long. This is an example of the ubiquitously mentioned linguistic principle of recursion. That's the principle that says a sentence--a grammatical sentence--can be an infinite number of words long. Of course, comprehension breaks down at a certain point, but that doesn't mean the sentence is ungrammatical. One can easily do this by adding clause after clause after clause. It can be even simpler than that, though. Take, for instance, the sentence I just wrote: "One can easily do this by adding clause after clause after clause." I could make that sentence infinitely long, as well as infinitely annoying, merely by adding "after clause" over and over again to the end of the sentence.

Ginsberg's approach is more sophisticated than that, however. He will stick with one clause for a while, as he did in "Howl." This creates anaphora, one of the few structurally poetic things Ginsberg does, at least in most of the poems that I've read. In Howl, the anaphora is frequently on the word who. But though he sticks with one clause for a while, he will also vary it, start new line (and a new clause or phrase) with that or with. With Ginsberg writing a long section of a poem, which could in itself be a poem, in one long sentence, the effect is one of infinite expansion.

This poem, "Sunflower Sutra," is broken into more than one sentence. But just the same, the sentences tend to be long, and that is a characteristic of Ginsberg's style.

This style frequently makes Ginsberg's poems sound like rants or ravings. My boyfriend, who claims to not understand poetry or be sensitive to it, said just about as much when I read Ginsberg's poems aloud. The language is ranty, often so much so that words start ramming up against each other like train cars in the train yard, words that normally wouldn't be rammed up against each other: I walked on the banks of the tincan banana dock (emphasis added). This is another example of recursion. Nouns are often used in English as if they are adjectives. "Telephone jack" is one example. "Telephone," however, is probably still a noun here, but it forms a compound noun with "jack." Given a literate person's experience with and education in English, he often treats the word "telephone" as if it were an adjective. The point here, though, is that Ginsberg employs several methods of recursion to build that sense of an ever-expanding line, sentence, universe in his poems.

On Li-Young Lee's poems:

I haven't read much of Lee's poetry, but what I have read has always left me feeling as if I've always wanted to feel this way. I can think of no good way to describe it in plain language. "Gentle melancholy" is the best I can come right now. Lee's poems are approachable because of their accessibility, but at the same time, there's always this emotional distance that feels unbridgeable. Or nearly unbridgeable. I love that emotional distance. It's something that I've tried to build into some of my own poems because the quietness it imbues can be stronger, more expressive sometimes than an infectious invading passion.


"as soon as an experience is expressed in words (oral or written), the real essence disappears... and when we see something extremely beautiful, there should be silence. There is a well-kknown poem which starts 'Oh Matsushima...', but because the poet was so impressed by its beauty he could not continue; this poem is considered one of his masterpieces." (Saville-Troike, Muriel. The Ethnography of Communication. 1982.)

I'm not sure that this is entirely accurate, that the essence of an experience disappears when that experience is expressed in words. It could be that holds true only in Japan. In Korea, however, there is this concept of nunch'i. It translates roughly as "perceptiveness," "studying one's face," or "sensitivity with the eyes" (M. Park 1979; Yum 1978). "It is a Korean interactional ideal to be able to understand an interlocuter with minimal talk, to be able to read the other's face and the situation without verbal reference" (Benjamin Bailey, from the article "Communication of Respect in Interethnic Service Encounters").

On Collins's essay:

Rilke said in his letters that we are all essentially alone. I feel acutely--well, sometimes anyway--when I'm with people who claim that they don't "get" poetry--or worse, people who claim they don't like poetry. So I talk to them. I guess I'm a bit of an evangelist, but I try not to be preachy. But poetry is something I love so much that I want others to feel that love, too, and it hurts--I know it sounds crazy, but it hurts--it hurts when people don't love it. When people won't love it.

One day we said we loved each other. And then we started talking about our lives together. He started talking about poetry as if it was ancillary. It's sort of sick, and in some ways it could mean I only half-live, but poetry is not ancillary. Sometimes I feel like everything else is. People sometimes say that you shouldn't live to work, you should work to live. I wouldn't work to live. I'd work to write poetry. And I had to make that clear to Vipul. So I wrote him a long letter so that he'd know this is my passion and that a passion is not a passion if it's ancillary.

The form of the poem on the page has been one of the things I've most struggled with. Sometimes I'll think a line sounds great, but I'm really displeased with the way it looks on the page. If I break the line, though, it can change the rhythm, the pacing with which a line is read. And sometimes I just don't want to do that. The choices one has to make in writing (really: revising) a poem can be so frustrating. There's just as much detail as in building a house: there are switch plates, mouldings, paint colors, tile materials shapes sizes colors, hardware for cabinets, door knobs, and on and on.

Poetry moves a person to place the way photographs do, except sometimes even more so. Because photographs are all visual. Poems bring to mind the sound of a place: crickets. Car horns. Trains rumbling over tracks. Poems bring to mind and the scent of place: walnut skins, clover, damp earth. Poems bring to mind and nerve the touch of place: dry grass, sand, breeze. Poems also bring to mind and tongue the taste of place: gulab jamun, paella, ciabatta.

This, of course, is a pleasure I've already touched on. I mentioned it when I talked about Kathy Fagan's influence on my writing of the Florilegia poem. She drew a connection between the sound of finches lifting off the ground and the sound of horselips. I wanted to find other ways to describe that same (or a similar) sound, and so I went to the sounds of sheets flapping in the wind, the sound of a thumb fanning the pages of a book.

The sounds in that poem play so much in the mouth and ear, but I especially love how the poem seems to wonder itself into being through these associative leaps. And, of course, given my history, my love of language(s), I love that those associative leaps are often made cross-linguistically.

I love how Collins puts this pleasure near the end. He admits that it's one of the many pleasures of poetry. Many people think--or behave as if (as I've already stated in the short sketches of my loved ones)--the meaning is the be-all, end-all of the poem.

http://www.livejournal.com/users/discounthaiku/5831.html#cutid1

6 Jul 2005
I have several notes floating in my great big folder of possible-poem notes on true crime and other things introduced to me by A&E or CourtTV. I love pop culture. I try not to be bashful about it, but I kind of apologize for everything. That may be one of my biggest problems in developing as a poet, I think: you can't apologize for everything. And I think you're supposed to at least appear like you apologize for nothing. At least most of the time.

This other thing, I won't say it's an obstacle to my development, but it is something that I bemoan sometimes: love of language is a good thing, I suppose, but it also sometimes leads me to writing cumbersome lines. And then it takes a long time to whittle the cumbersome lines down, if I ever do. There's this one poem I wrote over a year ago, and there's a line that I still am not sure of.

Now that, making choices, is where I think my greatest failure is. So far. Should I break the line here? Or here? Is this word better, or that? What about this syntax? I think it has to do with small confidence. Which will grow, inevitably--I hope. With time and practice and more maturity. More wisdom.

It has been a long time since I've looked at this poem though, and I have to say, the initial thrill of writing it was pretty strong. I felt really good about it. But the thrill wore out quickly and I set it aside. Reading it again, though, I'm reminded of the choices I did make. And, of course, reminded of the influences. In writing the last stanza, I was heavily influenced by Kathy Fagan's poem "Visitation." In it, "That charm of finches lifting from a ditch / can surprise you with a sound like / horselips." I loved that way of describing the sound, and I realized that I think about sound so little when I write a poem. I mean, of course I think about the music in the poem, but I don't consider sound images (or taste images or touch images or scent images) nearly as much as I consider visual images.

One of the interesting things about reading, though, is that--at least from off the page--reading isa visual exercise. I've not taken any MRIs of people reading poetry, but I wonder what parts of the brain go red (that is an MRI, isn't it?) when they read a line like that I quoted from "Visitation." I first hear the words, then I see the image, then I hear the image, the sound image. So besides the claim that humans are such visual creatures, I wonder if we (well, I at the very least) are prepped for visual images, regardless of the images presented, because those images are presented through an visual medium--even if the reader is reading the poem aloud. I don't know exactly how this works for poetry that is read aloud to a listener. I've gone to quite a few poetry readings, but it's harder to analyze the effects of poetry received only aurally.

So yes, if I say, "Grandma's kitchen smelled like cinnamon rolls," do people smell the cinnamon rolls first? Or do they see them? I think I see them. And I suspect that this phemonenon is pretty consistent across the board.

I think I already wrote somewhere the Marge Piercy is my mahakaviyatri. My mother poet. The poem that first made me love her was "You Ask Why Sometimes I Say Stop"--the title (and the first line) of course being iambic tetrameter.

30 June 2005
Since the discussion yesterday, I'm also considering reciting a poem in French. The reason for this is because I find it easier to memorize things in French than I do things in English. And the reason for that is because I pay attention to sound more than sense. I can relate it to remembering songs. There are plenty of songs that people can hum the melody to, but for those same songs, people may be able to remember only half, only a quarter of the lyrics. I had to perform a scene from "Le Voyageur Sans Baggage" last term, and I still have all my lines memorized.

30 June 2005
But at the same time, I want my own chance to teach literature to young people. I keep imaginging that I'd like to eventually teach at a university or college, but I do know that those jobs are scarce. Still, it's what I'm shooting for. But I can't imagine being happy in a profession other than teaching. Writing, yes, of course. But I don't think I want to be a journalist.

Even that Meyers-Briggs (or however you spell it) personality test slotted me as a pedagogue. We'll see.

Anyway, my point was that even though I've been wanting to teach at college level, I do sometimes feel this little twist of guilt or pain about what the possibilities could be if I taught at high school. I know that not every person is going to love poetry. I believe that the should, of course, but there are people who don't like to read novels, people who don't like Stevie Wonder or Otis Redding (who the hell they are, I'll probably never know). But I think so many young people are turned off to poetry before they even have a chance to know what it is they're turning down. They get all these ideas about the pretentiousness of poetry, the high culture, the impenetrable language. Poetry is snooty. Poetry is intellectual, no--too intellectual. This is all about image, less about reality. Shit, I know a few people in the newspaper business, and god love 'em, they're not spared from their bouts of pretentiousness. Neither is any person. Poetry is afeared, and I'd really like to do something to make it less scary to people.

I think of "how to learn to read poetry" like this: learning the language of poetry is just like learning any other language. If you learn it early enough, it's natural. It may be more difficult to learn if you start very late, but the beauty of this language, this poetry language, is that it isn't just like learning a non-native language--well, not if the poetry is in one's native tongue. That's because poetry is made up of the words in your native language. Yet people more fearlessly take on Welsh or Chinese or Arabic than they take on poetry.

Now, I know I'm getting a little carried away here with my American spirit: anything's available to any man; all he need do is work for it. I know that's not really true. But that knowledge shouldn't keep people from working. Because really, without work, things are even less accessible, less available. I could invoke the lottery's slogan here, I guess: you gotta play to win.

24 June 2005
But the poets' visions seem shared: there doesn't seem to be any profound statement about anything other than the profound statement that most good poetry seems to make, and that is this: that the ordinary has an extraordinariness to it, if you look, and the extraordinary has much about it that is ordinary. This watch is a watch, but more than that, it is another world. Here is one world. Here is another. If it's too much to say that it is a whole other world, at least we could go so far as to say "this watch holds pieces to another world." So if this poem is "about" anything, if it's more than beauty (what a strange thing to write, "more than beauty"--as if beauty should often be thought of as insignificant), this poem means by example: look deep into the mundane; use your vision.
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[22 Sep 2005|04:28pm]
It's been a long time since I've written in here. I've been up to things related to poetry, but I haven't been doing as much writing of it as I should. A few lines here, a few ideas there. I haven't fleshed out a full poem in quite a while.

And soon it will be application time. That means I really have to get my statement of purpose/personal statement/statement of intent into shape. I wrote one two or so years ago, and now that I look over it I hate it. There might be some things I can use. This entry here, I guess, will be my work space for the statement.

First, some notes that Betsy W. and Kathy F. gave me:

From Kathy F:
--Why applying to ____ U? Concentrate on why applying to the program.
--Why applying to the program in the first place?
--How would you characterize your work?
--What poets are you reading?
--Draw from poets and fiction.
--Teaching statement: Model of teacher; classes I want to teach.
--Portfolio: plain font, clean, choose best work, no colors, make simple, keep audience in mind.
--Finished poets? Not necessarily--they want to see people that they are interested in working with.

From Betsy W:
--Look at work in terms of influence and imitation.
--Do intense studies of one poet.
--Read criticism, interviews, etc. Get to know them as a poet. (University of Michigan Press: Poets on Poetry--collections of essays on poetry.)
--Problems in our work--line breaks, leaning on abstraction, et cetera.
--Know how to teach yourself out of bad habits.
--Know what you're doing.
--Bring something *to* the workshop, not just take something from it.

I don't even know where to start with this. I guess I'll probably have to start where I always start. With freewriting. Well, I suppose I may sift through some of the earlier entries in this little journal to find some things I'll want to include. Those will just go in the comments section.
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FlatCity Press publication party. [09 Aug 2005|01:51pm]
I went. The folks at Trip wanted me to talk the magazine up, but I was too nervous to do that. At least I ran into Sam there, and we were able to offer each other some kind of support before we had to go up and read, seeing that we were the first two. Sam read well. I read poorly. I got up there, and a few lines into the poem someone from the audience shouted, "Can't hear you!" So I walked closer to the mike and started to read again. Then a man walked in front of me, making a T with his hands shaped like spades, signing "time out." He turned the amplifier up and moved the mike farther away from it. Apparently there had been feed back. So I walked up to the mike again and began to read again. Later, when it was all over, I asked Vipul if I had read too fast. He nodded yes.

At least Sam and I could feel awkward together. When it was all over, Vipul and I gave him a ride back to his home.
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Secular Love [29 Jul 2005|10:31am]
A few weeks ago I finished reading Secular Love by Michael Ondaatje. Not very many poems moved me much or made much of impression on me during my first read-through. Picking and choosing on a second read-through, more of the poems were interesting to me, but still. Here are the ones that did it first, the first one probably being my favorite:

The Cinnamon Peeler


If I were a cinnamon peeler
I would ride your bed
and leave the yellow bark dust
on your pillow.

Your breasts and shoulders would reek
you could never walk through markets
without the profession of my fingers
floating over you.  The blind would 
stumble certain of whom they approached
though you might bathe
under rain gutters, monsoon.

Here on the upper thigh
at this smooth pasture
neighbour to your hair
or the crease
that cuts your back.  This ankle.
You will be known among strangers
as the cinnamon peeler's wife.

I could hardly glance at you
before marriage
never touch you
- your keen nosed mother, your rough brothers.
I buried my hands
in saffron, digsuised them
over smoking tar,
helped the honey gatherers...

            *

When we swam once 
I touched you in water
and our bodies remained free,
you could hold me and be blind of smell.
You climbed the bank and said

            this is how you touch other women
the grass cutter's wife, the lime burner's daughter.
And you searched your arms
for the missing perfume
                       and knew

             what good is it
to be the lime burner's daughter
left with no trace
as if not spoken to in the act of love
as if wounded without the pleasure of a scar.

you touched 
your belly to my hands
in the dry air and said
I am the cinnamon 
peeler's wife.  Smell me.

***

Translations of my Postcards


the peacock means order
the fighting kangaroos mean madness
the oasis means I have struck water

positioning of the stamp - the despot's head
horizontal, or 'mounted policemen,'
mean political danger

the false date means I
am not where I should be

when I speak of the weather
I mean business

a blank postacard says
I am in the wilderness

***

Bessie Smith at Roy Thomson Hall


At first she refused to sing.

She had applied for the one concert - that she was allowed each sabbatical - to take place in Havana. Palms! Oh Pink Walls! Cuba! she would hum to herself, dazzling within the clouds.

But here she was. Given the chance of nine Honest Ed restaurants and then hurried to Roy Thomson Hall which certainly should never have been called that.

A long brown dress, with fringes.
Fred Longshaw at the piano.


She opened the first set with "Kitchen Man." Five people left. Al Neil had flown in from Vancouver on a tip. For the next ten minutes, after people realized that it really was Bessie Smith, the hall was filled with shouted requests. "Any Woman's Blues," "Down in the Dumps" ... until she said I want to sing what I never was allowed to, because I died. And she brought the rest of the twentieth century under her wing.

She wore wings. They raised themselves with her arms each time she coaxed a phrase. Her wings would float up and fall slow like a hand held out of a car coming down against the wind, the feathers black as the Steinway. You should have been there.

During the intermission the stunned audience just sat in their seats. 'She's looking good' was one of the common remarks.

When she returned she brought out the band. They were glad to have arrived on earth, but they too had hoped for Havana. Abraham Wheat on soprano sax was there. Joe Smith on cornet was there. By midnight her voice was even better. She talked more between songs.

At 2 a.m. the band levitated. She used no microphone. Above us banners waved and danced like a multitude. She took on and caressed the songs of Jerome Kern. She asked what happened to her friend Charlie Green. And then, to her surprise, to apologise for Toronto, Charlie Green was allowed to join her. He had been found frozen in a Harlem tenement but now stepped forward shyly with his trombone. And now he and Joe Smith and Bessie Smith were alone on stage the audience quiet and the banners still and the air conditioning holding its breath. They wheeled away the Steinway. They brought out an old upright decorated with bullet holes. Al Neil was asked to sit in. She sang, "It won't be You."

The encore was made up of two songs. "Weeping Willow Blues" and "Far Away Blues." We stood like sudden wheat. But she could not hear us. She could not see us. Then she died again.

***

Birch Bark


for George Whalley

An hour after the storm on Birch Lake
the island bristles. Rock. Leaves still falling.
At this time, in the hour after lightning
we release the canoes.
Silence of water
purer than the silece of rock.
A paddle touches itself. We move
over blind mercury, feel the muscle
within the river, the blade
weave in the dark water.

Now each casual word is precisely chosen
passed from bow to stern, as if
leaning back to pass a canteen.
There are echoes, repercussions of water.
We are in absolute landscape,
among names that fold in onto themselves.

To circle the island means witnessing
the blue grey dust of a heron
released out of the trees.
So the dialogue slides
nothing more than friendship
an old song we break into
not needing all the words.

We are past naming the country.
The reflections are never there
without us, without the exhaustion
of water and trees after storm.
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Anxiety. [25 Jul 2005|03:12pm]
I'm still looking for work. This past Thursday I had an interview for a teaching position. I was pretty excited to even get the interview considering that I'm not a licensed teacher. My prospective employers did say, though, that the lack of a license would be a hurdle for me in the hiring process. In addition, this is a charter school, one developed for a population of young people with special needs. I'd love to learn with them and get the chance to work with them, but at the same time, I'm sad that there may be some lessos I would've loved to have done but may not be appropriate for these students. It's probably not worth worrying about. At least not until there's an offer.

A friend of mine works for a local publisher, and she's been very helpful in putting me in touch with the people I need to be in touch with. I hope this opportunity or the teaching opportunity works out. I need some income pronto, and I need a place to live.

In the meantime, poetry has been getting the short shrift. Actually, this entire past schoolyear, the literary magazine I help edit has been getting the short shrift, and I'm afraid the other editors have had it with me. There just wasn't a whole lot of extra time after the 25 credit hours each semester, and of course the studying, not to mention the paid work. And then there's always a need for sleep and eating. But I guess I can be full of excuses--I can be full of reasons even--but those things don't matter. I do appreciate this. They need someone to do the work, and I just haven't been able to. I'm trying to make my presence strong and positive again, but I'm afraid it might be too little too late.

I have always felt like the small fish over there, though, even when I was on even footing with the other editors--at least as far as my title was concerned. I put in a lot of effort for finding good art for the pages, and then the pictures are teeny tiny, unless they're the picture on the front page. I'm really not a fan of visual art being treated as a supplement to text. Yes, it's great for visual art and literature to compliment one another, but when a photograph is too small to feel the emotional weight of it... that's cheating the audience as well as the artist. I also felt that editorial business was not handled appropriately when one of the editors provided my opinion to an author before subsequently demeaning my opinion. Wouldn't it have been best to discuss the issue with me first, if she thought my idea was insignificant? Instead of embarrassing me? I guess this is how things work, though.

The thing, I suppose, is this: I felt like a lackey over there even before my title implied it.
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Carolyn Forché [08 Jul 2005|10:52am]
The Colonel

What you have heard is true.   I was in his house.   His wife carried  a tray
of coffee and sugar.  His daughter filed her nails,  his son went out for the
night.   There were daily papers,  pet dogs,  a pistol on the cushion  beside
him.   The  moon  swung  bare  on  its  black  cord  over the house.   On the
television  was  a  cop  show.   It  was  in  English.   Broken  bottles were
embedded  in  the  walls  around  the  house  to  scoop  the kneecaps  from a 
man's  legs  or cut  his hands  to lace.  On the windows  there were gratings 
like those in liquor stores.  We had dinner, rack of lamb,  good wine, a gold
bell  was  on the table  for  calling  the  maid.   The  maid  brought  green
mangoes,  salt,  a type of bread.   I  was  asked  how  I enjoyed the country.
There  was  a brief commercial  in Spanish.   His wife  took everything  away.
There  was  some  talk  then of how difficult  it had become to govern.   The
parrot said  hello on the terrace. The colonel told it to shut up, and pushed
himself  from the table.   My friend said to me  with his eyes:  say  nothing.
The  colonel  returned with a sack used to bring groceries home.   He spilled
many  human ears  on the table.   They were like  dried peach halves.   There 
is no other way to say this.   He took one of them in his hands,  shook it in
our faces, dropped it into a water glass.  It came alive there. I am tired of
fooling around he said.   As for the rights of anyone,  tell your people they
can go  fuck themselves.   He swept  the ears to the floor  with his arm  and
held the last of his wine in the air.  Something for your poetry, no? he said.
Some  of the ears on the floor caught  this scrap of his voice.   Some of the
ears on the floor were pressed to the ground.

May 1978


I love this poem.

It's gruesome but the crafted language and lines--yes, lines--somehow makes it all seem mundane. Quiet. Almost a calm. And the effect is then one of a quiet horror, and a sadness with that horror.

I say that this poem, though it is (appears to be?) a prose poem, may be in lines because I checked a couple places, and on one "The Colonel" was reproduced exactly with the same breaks as were printed in our anthology. In addition, there were some clues on that web page to indicate that the poem had been copied directly from the book of Forché's poems in which it was published. One site, The Plagiarist had the poem broken into lines more clearly identified as being lines, which is not how this poem was meant to be read.

Ultimately, I have to bow to what Forché herself said the form was. She expresses in an interview with Bill Moyers that this poem was not written as a poem. It was written as a fragment of a memoir, and it got mixed up with her manuscript of poems. Some poet--I forget who--admonishes us not to always trust what the poet says of his own work, though.

Several critics have interpreted the tone of this poem as being in keeping with that of a report. Well, yes, it is that. But not a journalistic kind of report. The poet addresses us in the very first line: What you have heard is true. Also, the short sentences and clean diction give the impression that Forché is just giving us the facts. But the shortness of the sentences is also in keeping with the kind of report that a victim would give. The speaker seems to be in the midst of the woozy stoicism of shock even while she can recognize the horror of the events in her statement, in her testimony.

Some of the observations made in the MAPS essays (see comments section of this entry) further explicate why this poem tells this horrific story as if it were barely out of the ordinary. The trappings of a calm suburban house (wife carrying a tray of coffee and sugar, daughter filing her nails, son going out for the
night; daily papers, pet dogs) are juxtaposed with a symbol of violence: a pistol. Not only is there a symbol of violence in the house, but that symbol, that violence, is threateningly immediate: it rests beside the colonel on a cushion.

One connection I hadn't made, but which was made by some other reader (again, as mentioned in the essays below) was that the moon needn't be only a moon. The way it swung on that black rope reminds one of the round glaring lamp in an interrogation room.

I love that line there is no other way to say this. It both prepares the reader for the following horror and reflects the apologetic nature of a witness or victim who doesn't want to horrify you. Because in this, she's creating more victims, more witnesses to the horror.

As for rhythm, Terrence Diggory says that "we discover that each [sentence] is almost perfectly anapestic." He is referring to the final two sentences of the poem. And, as we've already established, the anapest is probably my favorite foot. Kenneth Lincoln makes further notes on the rhythm of this piece:
The lines internally break into hymnal or ballad measure (five, times in tetrameter, "His wife took everything away"), blank verse (sixteen times in pentameter, "The moon swung bare on its black cord over the house"), and Homeric meter (seven times in hexameter, '"There were daily papers, pet dogs, a pistol on the cushion beside him"), only three lines in strictly "free" verse, three to seven beats.

I'm not quite familiar enough yet with meter to have spotted all these. Once the meter of one sentence broke down in another sentence, I'd be likely to say (especially influenced by the prose-structure of the line lengths) that it's all free verse. There is meter here. It just happens to vary between sentences.

I like Kenneth Lincoln's essay on this poem very much, but several times he mentioned the "failure of language" to directly describe this experience. This was frustrating me because while, yes, language has lots of failings, but its failure often breeds success elsewhere. Maybe it would be better if we clarify the sense of failure that seems most important here. And that is not that failure is equivalent to a lack of success; rather, the failures of language are limitations. Often people (and art) experience successes that wouldn't have been achieved without limitation. This goes back to the discussion of form that I had with Mehul all those months ago. The best singers, and by this I mean the singers who move us most (at least, outside of the opera), tend not to be those who have voices that are beautiful per se. The best singers tend to be singers who are limited by an inability to hold a note, strike a pure tone, hit a high F or have voices so supple they can trill like birds. I'm thinking about Billie Holiday in particular, but there are others, including my favorite rock singer, Stephen Malkmus.

Finally, Kenneth hints at the point I'm trying to make: "In so failing, the simile breaks a frustrated silence beyond itself."
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Ai [08 Jul 2005|02:02am]
Sleeping Beauty
A Fiction
for the comatose patient raped by an aide

You steal into my room,
between darkness and noon
to doff the disguise as nurse's aide
and parade before me as you really are,
a man for whom time is deranged
and consists of your furtive visits to me,
while all the rest is just a gloomy reprieve
from your nothingness.
For me time is arranged without the past
or the future,
without tenses to suture me to my days and nights.
For me, there is only now,
when you are certain you won't be disturbed,
spread my legs apart
and break through the red door to my chamber.
After you've finished,
you use a clean, white towel
to wipe away the evidence
of how you mingled your life
with what is left of mine.
You think your crime won't be discovered
but the evidence survives
to dine on the flow of fluid
dripping into me,
as though I were merely a conduit
for the baby who knows me
only as its host
and never will as Mother
and you will never be Father,
baby never see,
you, who in a fever came to me.
I was "comma tose" as my mother calls it.
She hoped for a miracle,
but when it came, it was not the one she wanted,
when she prayed to Saint Jude,
patron saint of lost causes
and laid my photo on the altar
she'd erected in the living room,
beside a rose in a crystal vase.
My face almost glowed in the dark,
as if the spark of consciousness
leaped from me into the image
of what I was before I was swept away from myself,
only to return as someone else,
for whom language is silence,
language is thirst
that is not slaked.
Monster, you took all that was left of my body,
but could not break my body's vow
of renunciation of itself.
My eyes were open,
while you violated me.
All at once
you raised your hand and closed them,
but I could see
beyond the veil of your deceit.
At first, I thought you'd come to my rescue,
but instead of waking me with a kiss,
you pricked me with the thorn of violence
and I did not rise from my bed
to wed the handsome prince
as in the fairy tale
my mother once read to me,
when forever did not mean eternity.

The way Ai worked with sound in this piece is really interesting. There's assonance and consonance of course. I'll cover those. But first I want to discuss what she's doing with internal rhyme. Often Ai will end a line with a word that will be echoed in the beginning of the next line, just a word or two away. Internal rhyme can be all over the place; it's not prescribed; but that practice was consistent enough to stick out to me.

Here's the first example of that kind of internal rhyming: to doff the disguise as nurse's aide / and parade before me as you really are. Parade of the second line rhymes with aide of the first. The proximal internal rhyming happens again just a few lines later: or the future, / without tenses to suture me to my days and nights. Future and suture are not perfect rhymes, but they're not exactly slant, either. The one sound keeping them from being rhyming words is that there's a Y sound at the beginning of future, following the F.

In the following lines, we have the particular internal rhyming happening yet again: beside a rose in a crystal vase. / My face almost glowed in the dark, / as if the spark of consciousness. Vase rhymes with face; dark rhymes with spark. It happens one last time very near the end: and I did not rise from my bed / to wed the handsome prince, where bed rhymes with wed.

Although that's the last instance of that particular kind of internal rhyme, internal rhyme is happening throughout the poem, in a way that is not as apparently regular as the other seemed to be: deranged/arranged, rest/nothingness, mine/crime/dine, prayed/laid, slaked/break, thirst/first, and so on.

As promised, here's the assonance and alliteration (and some consonance) I mentioned: You steal into my room, / between darkness and noon / to doff the disguise as nurse's aide / and parade before me as you really are, a man for whom time is deranged. The strongest sound going on in these lines is D. It's in darkness and doff, disguise and aide, and finally parade and deranged. The assonance here is on A, which is, of course, in the rhyme of aide and parade, but it continues into the A of deranged as well. That's enough for the assonance and consonance because, although there's plenty of it in this poem, it's less interesting than the internal rhymes already mentioned.

It's also less interesting than the slant end rhymes that occur sometimes in the poem but, most notably, at the beginning and end of the poem. The first two lines read You steal into my room, / between darkness and noon and the last two lines read my mother once read to me, / when forever did not mean eternity. I say it's notable because the slant end rhymes can be said to act as a sort of cover for the poem, as if the poem were a book in and of itself.

Then, clearly, the poem's most perceptible crafting is evident in the language used to parallel the events of this rape and the sequence of Prince Charming sneaking into the vine-covered castle to rescue the beautiful Sleeping Beauty. He "steals" into the patient's room. He removes his disguise, which in the fairy tale would be a great thing, for he would reveal himself as a handsome and noble prince. But even at the beginning of this poem, the dissonance between the fairy tale and the reality begins to build because the man removing the disguise does not reveal himself to be handsome and noble. Instead, he reveals himself as one for whom time is "deranged." The man is a villain. And then, although the villain prince has already snuck into Sleeping Beauty's room, we have another image of entry, and this one could be paralleling either a rescue or an attack: you are certain you won't be disturbed, / spread my legs apart / and break through the red door to my chamber (emphasis added). But though the language of the metaphor is unclear, the language leading up to it is not. This is an attack.

The whole of the last eight lines is consistent in the fairy tale metaphor, and the unsatisfied expectation of rescue:

At first, I thought you'd come to my rescue,
but instead of waking me with a kiss,
you pricked me with the thorn of violence
and I did not rise from my bed
to wed the handsome prince
as in the fairy tale
my mother once read to me,
when forever did not mean eternity.

As much as I find this poem moving, I still don't know exactly what the last line means. I say this because I thought that's what forever meant. So, I guess I'll turn to the dictionary for guidance. These definitions come from Webster Online:

Main Entry: 1for·ev·er
Pronunciation: f&-'rev-&r, fo-; Southern often f&-'e-v&
Function: adverb
1 : for a limitless time
2 : at all times : CONTINUALLY

Main Entry: 2forever
Function: noun
: a seemingly interminable time : excessively long

Main Entry: eter·ni·ty
Pronunciation: i-'t&r-n&-tE
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural -ties
Etymology: Middle English eternite, from Middle French eternité, from Latin aeternitat-, aeternitas, from aeternus
1 : the quality or state of being eternal
2 : infinite time
3 plural : AGE 3b
4 : the state after death : IMMORTALITY
5 : a seemingly endless or immeasurable time

Given the definitions here, I think I'm seeing what was meant by the last line. Forever used to mean something positive, like "I'll love you forever." I will not stop loveing you, is what that means. My love for you isn't limited. But then in definition 2, we start to see some of the negative connotation that forever can have: "seemingly interminable," "excessively long." These two definitions match well with definition 5 of eternity: "a seemingly endless or immeasurable time." All this time is without meaning, "without tenses to suture me to my days and nights," as the speaker says. And that lack of arrangement makes the sense of eternity in forever even more salient to this comatose woman.
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Allen Ginsberg [07 Jul 2005|11:53pm]
Sunflower Sutra

I walked on the banks of the tincan banana dock and sat down under the huge shade
     of a Southern Pacific locomotive to look at the sunset over the box house 
     hills and cry. 
Jack Kerouac sat beside me on a busted rusty iron pole, companion, we thought the
     same thoughts of the soul, bleak and blue and sad-eyed, surrounded by the 
     gnarled steel roots of trees of machinery. 
The oily water on the river mirrored the red sky, sun sank on top of final Frisco 
     peaks, no fish in that stream, no hermit in those mounts, just ourselves 
     rheumy-eyed and hungover like old bums on the riverbank, tired and wily. 
Look at the Sunflower, he said, there was a dead gray shadow against the sky, big
     as a man, sitting dry on top of a pile of ancient sawdust-- 
--I rushed up enchanted--it was my first sunflower, memories of Blake--my visions--
     Harlem 
and Hells of the Eastern rivers, bridges clanking Joes Greasy Sandwiches, dead baby 
     carriages, black treadless tires forgotten and unretreaded, the poem of the
     riverbank, condoms & pots, steel knives, nothing stainless, only the dank muck
     and the razor-sharp artifacts passing into the past-- 
and the gray Sunflower poised against the sunset, crackly bleak and dusty with the
     smut and smog and smoke of olden locomotives in its eye-- 
corolla of bleary spikes pushed down and broken like a battered crown, seeds fallen
     out of its face, soon-to-be-toothless mouth of sunny air, sun-rays obliterated
     on its hairy head like a dried wire spiderweb, 
leaves stuck out like arms out of the stem, gestures from the sawdust root, broke 
     pieces of plaster fallen out of the black twigs, a dead fly in its ear, 
Unholy battered old thing you were, my sunflower O my soul, I loved you then! 
The grime was no man's grime but death and human locomotives, 
all that dress of dust, that veil of darkened railroad skin, that smog of cheek,
     that eyelid of black mis'ry, that sooty hand or phallus or protuberance of
     artificial worse-than-dirt--industrial--modern--all that civilization spotting
     your crazy golden crown-- 
and those blear thoughts of death and dusty loveless eyes and ends and withered roots
     below, in the home-pile of sand and sawdust, rubber dollar bills, skin of 
     machinery, the guts and innards of the weeping coughing car, the empty lonely 
     tincans with their rusty tongues alack, what more could I name, the smoked ashes
     of some cock cigar, the cunts of wheelbarrows and the milky breasts of cars,
     wornout asses out of chairs & sphincters of dynamos--all these 
entangled in your mummied roots--and you there standing before me in the sunset, all
     your glory in your form! 
A perfect beauty of a sunflower! a perfect excellent lovely sunflower existence! a
     sweet natural eye to the new hip moon, woke up alive and excited grasping in 
     the sunset shadow sunrise golden monthly breeze! 
How many flies buzzed round you innocent of your grime, while you cursed the heavens
     of the railroad and your flower soul? 
Poor dead flower? when did you forget you were a flower? when did you look at your skin
     and decide you were an impotent dirty old locomotive? the ghost of a locomotive? 
     the specter and shade of a once powerful mad American locomotive? 
You were never no locomotive, Sunflower, you were a sunflower! 
And you Locomotive, you are a locomotive, forget me not! 
So I grabbed up the skeleton thick sunflower and stuck it at my side like a scepter, 
and deliver my sermon to my soul, and Jack's soul too, and anyone who'll listen, 
--We're not our skin of grime, we're not our dread bleak dusty imageless locomotive,
     we're all beautiful golden sunflowers inside, we're blessed by our own seed &
     golden hairy naked accomplishment-bodies growing into mad black formal sunflowers in
     the sunset, spied on by our eyes under the shadow of the mad locomotive riverbank
     sunset Frisco hilly tincan evening sitdown vision. 

                              Berkeley, 1955


LiveJournal makes it possible to make each line the length that Ginsberg desired it. Perhaps that makes this a great opportunity. And perhaps then I'm squandering that great opportunity. But acting in accordance with Ginsberg's desires would make the poem really difficult to read.

I'm discussing Ginsberg because I haven't really been a big fan of his. It's true that I own his Collected Poems, but I bought the book when I was a freshman in college. That's when I still had money. It's also true that the first time I read Howl, I read it aloud. And I was overwhelmed, and I cried. That's the first poem that made me cry. Which is to say, plenty have made me cry since.

I'm not sure why it is that I resist Ginsberg so much. When I start to read his poems, the persistence of the language does bring me through it. Maybe I don't like that often times I feel that the language bullies me through it. I think it also has to do with the whole image of the beats, or maybe it's something else. Maybe I'm uncomfortable about the people these days who lionize the Beat poets. The Beat poets were men, and the people who love them always seem to be men, young men for the most part.

I think it's also in the approach to poetry: first thought, best thought? But Ginsberg did commit some revisions. Since there were revisions, the idea of "first thought best thought" is disingenuous.

And then maybe that's the real heart of it, the almond-like seed in the center of the peach. I don't trust the image; I suspect dishonesty in it.

I did say, however, that in spite of my reservations, I often enjoyed the poem when I'd actually read it. And I loved this one. It's classic Ginsberg, if you can say that. The lines are frequently very long, longer than the width of a page. It isn't the lines alone that are long. The sentence length tends to be very long as well.

Whenever I read poetry, I read it aloud. That is, if I can help it at all. I want to feel the words in my mouth, see the words on the page, and hear my own voice giving voice to the words--all at the same time. I want that experience, and I don't feel like I've gotten my dollar's worth if I don't get it. So, after I read this poem aloud, I pointed out to my boyfriend Vipul that the whole first section is one sentence long. This is an example of the ubiquitously mentioned linguistic principle of recursion. That's the principle that says a sentence--a grammatical sentence--can be an infinite number of words long. Of course, comprehension breaks down at a certain point, but that doesn't mean the sentence is ungrammatical. One can easily do this by adding clause after clause after clause. It can be even simpler than that, though. Take, for instance, the sentence I just wrote: "One can easily do this by adding clause after clause after clause." I could make that sentence infinitely long, as well as infinitely annoying, merely by adding "after clause" over and over again to the end of the sentence.

Ginsberg's approach is more sophisticated than that, however. He will stick with one clause for a while, as he did in "Howl." This creates anaphora, one of the few structurally poetic things Ginsberg does, at least in most of the poems that I've read. In Howl, the anaphora is frequently on the word who. But though he sticks with one clause for a while, he will also vary it, start new line (and a new clause or phrase) with that or with. With Ginsberg writing a long section of a poem, which could in itself be a poem, in one long sentence, the effect is one of infinite expansion.

This poem, "Sunflower Sutra," is broken into more than one sentence. But just the same, the sentences tend to be long, and that is a characteristic of Ginsberg's style.

This style frequently makes Ginsberg's poems sound like rants or ravings. My boyfriend, who claims to not understand poetry or be sensitive to it, said just about as much when I read Ginsberg's poems aloud. The language is ranty, often so much so that words start ramming up against each other like train cars in the train yard, words that normally wouldn't be rammed up against each other: I walked on the banks of the tincan banana dock (emphasis added). This is another example of recursion. Nouns are often used in English as if they are adjectives. "Telephone jack" is one example. "Telephone," however, is probably still a noun here, but it forms a compound noun with "jack." Given a literate person's experience with and education in English, he often treats the word "telephone" as if it were an adjective. The point here, though, is that Ginsberg employs several methods of recursion to build that sense of an ever-expanding line, sentence, universe in his poems.

Okay, I can see by checking with a Word document that I've already written past the second page, so I'd better start wrapping things up. First, though, I want to talk about why it is that I actually love this poem. I've discussed line length and sentence length and and the feeling that's effected by both.

What makes me love this poem is the last nine lines, starting at "entangled in your mummied roots." I love the tenderness and passion with which he addresses the sunflower. How he tries to put order once again into the world by telling these objects what they are, their rightful places, their true selves.
Poor dead flower? when did you forget you were a flower? when did you look at your skin
     and decide you were an impotent dirty old locomotive? the ghost of a locomotive? 
     the specter and shade of a once powerful mad American locomotive? 
You were never no locomotive, Sunflower, you were a sunflower! 
And you Locomotive, you are a locomotive, forget me not!

You were never no locomotive, Sunflower, you were a sunflower! There seems to be so much love in that line. And it feels like he's addressing us, the audience, directly.

Lastly, although I like the last line, I'm not sure that it's entirely necessary. It's iterative. The point has already been made by the time the speaker, Ginsberg, clearly, gets to the line reading So I grabbed up the skeleton thick sunflower and stuck it at my side like a scepter, and deliver my sermon to my soul, and Jack's soul too, and anyone who'll listen. But it is a sermon, a teaching, a sutra. So iteration doesn't really work counter to the poem's purpose. Even though I like that last long line, where the sermon actually begins, it brings the poem to a close on a weaker note. For me.
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Li-Young Lee [07 Jul 2005|10:28pm]
I haven't read much of Lee's poetry, but what I have read has always left me feeling as if I've always wanted to feel this way. I can think of no good way to describe it in plain language. "Gentle melancholy" is the best I can come right now. Lee's poems are approachable because of their accessibility, but at the same time, there's always this emotional distance that feels unbridgeable. Or nearly unbridgeable. I love that emotional distance. It's something that I've tried to build into some of my own poems because the quietness it imbues can be stronger, more expressive sometimes than an infectious invading passion.

Li-Young Lee was born to Chinese parents and lived in Indonesia and other parts of eastern Asia before settling in Pennsylvania by the time he was ten years old. Though he's spent most of his life in this country, he retains some of the hallmarks of some eastern Asian philosophy. There is this belief that
"as soon as an experience is expressed in words (oral or written), the real essence disappears... and when we see something extremely beautiful, there should be silence. There is a well-kknown poem which starts 'Oh Matsushima...', but because the poet was so impressed by its beauty he could not continue; this poem is considered one of his masterpieces." (Saville-Troike, Muriel. The Ethnography of Communication. 1982.)

I'm not sure that this is entirely accurate, that the essence of an experience disappears when that experience is expressed in words. It could be that holds true only in Japan. In Korea, however, there is this concept of nunch'i. It translates roughly as "perceptiveness," "studying one's face," or "sensitivity with the eyes" (M. Park 1979; Yum 1978). "It is a Korean interactional ideal to be able to understand an interlocuter with minimal talk, to be able to read the other's face and the situation without verbal reference" (Benjamin Bailey, from the article "Communication of Respect in Interethnic Service Encounters").

Li-Young Lee's heritage is Chinese, though. Not Japanese or Korean. But some of these same ideals, or reflections of those ideals, echo in the tone and restraint of Lee's poems.

As for the poems, first I'll do one, then the other, then the two together.

Eating Alone

I've pulled the last of the year's young onions.
The garden is bare now. The ground is cold,
brown and old. What is left of the day flames
in the maples at the corner of my
eye. I turn, a cardinal vanishes.
By the cellar door, I wash the onions,
then drink from the icy metal spigot.

Once, years back, I walked beside my father
among the windfall pears. I can't recall
our words. We may have strolled in silence. But
I still see him bend that way--left hand braced
on knee, creaky--to lift and hold to my
eye a rotten pear. In it, a hornet
spun crazily, glazed in slow, glistening juice.

It was my father I saw this morning
waving to me from the trees. I almost
called to him, until I came close enough
to see the shovel, leaning where I had
left it, in the flickering, deep green shade.

White rice steaming, amost done. Sweet green peas
fried in onions. Shrimp braised in sesame
oil and garlic. And my own loneliness.
What more could I, a young man, want.

The sound in this poem is lovely but not stunning. I mean no slight by that. What I mean is that the sound is not a distraction. The sound plays nearly no part at all in conscious thought. Instead the sound is like a small wind lifting leaves up off the trees and carrying them away, even if only a few feet. The rhythm, if I pay attention to it, is gorgeous.

In the first line we have "I've pulled the last of the year's young onions" : I've pulled the last of the year's young onions. That's how I read it anyway. Three strong beats right in a row. And then there are the segments of sound in those same three beats: Y. Y. Y. Years. Young. OnYions.

The rhythm of the second line thrills me even more: "The garden is bare now. The ground is cold" : The garden is bare now. The ground is cold. This line has ten syllables to it, but the way I'm reading it, the line only has four strong beats. I'm not exactly sure how to cut this up, but I'd say that first we have an iamb, then two anapests, then another iamb. Gosh darn it, I love the rhythm in this line so much. Also, the same combination of sounds is found in the cold of this line and the pulled from the previous line.

Most lines in this poem fall in at ten syllables, when there's a variation, there's an extra syllable, giving the line an eleven-syllable count. Except for the last line. That line is only eight syllables long. This is significant. This lack of syllables, paired with the sense of the words in that last line ("What more could I, a young man, want.") gives another hint at the meaning of that line. This line is not a rhetorical question as "what more could I want?" usually is. There is a lack. There is a lack of syllables that points to, or mirrors, another lack. The father. A young man would want his father. And the father is not there. Instead, the young man is left with his loneliness.

The speaker recalls a memory of his father, the rotten pear and the dizzy juice-soaked bee. Then the speaker tells his audience how he saw his father in the trees. The speaker almost called out to him. But, of course, he didn't. Because the father is not there. Not in any physical objective way.

It's a heartbreaking moment described here, but the language is what makes it beautiful. I find it interesting that Li-Young Lee chose to combine the words cellar and door in this poem.

J.R.R. Tolkien in a lecture, and later an essay, compared English and Welsh using this phrase:
Most English-speaking people, for instance, will admit that cellar door is beautiful, especially if dissociated from its sense (and from its spelling). More beautiful than, say, sky, and far more beautiful than beautiful. Well then, in Welsh for me cellar doors are extraordinarily frequent, and moving to the higher dimension, the words in which there is pleasure in the contemplation of the association of form and sense are abundant. (From this discussion board, where the origins of the phrase are at issue. The phrase is also discussed on Wikipedia.)

Being that Lee is a poet, it's hard to dismiss the appearance of cellar door in his poem as coincidental, but that doesn't mean it isn't possible that it's a coincidence--or even likely.


Eating Together

In the steamer is the trout
seasoned with slivers of ginger,
two sprigs of green onion, and sesame oil.
We shall eat it with rice for lunch,
brothers, sister, my mother who will
taste the sweetest meat of the head,
holding it between her fingers
deftly, the way my father did
weeks ago. Then he lay down
to sleep like a snow-covered road
winding through pines older than him,
without any travelers, and lonely for no one.

When you've studied enough phonetics and phonology--and since I only have a BA, that needn't be much--so many sounds suddenly become alike one another. In the first two lines there are several S and Z sounds, T sounds. R sounds. But the soft G in ginger, doubled within the word, isn't that far off from the sound at the beginning of trout. In several dialects of English, when T is followed by R, the T is palatalized, making it into the sound at the beginning and end of church. The one thing distinguishing that sound from the soft G is voicing. I'm not sure what kind of aural effects this would have, but the oral effects, the feel in the mouth almost definitely would be the kind of richness we get with a more traditional consonance. It's rich. But because not all the sounds are truly consonant, the riches in sound are subtle. Also, there's assonance on the I in slivers and ginger.

The second line has two anapests, my favorite kind of foot.

The S sounds echo throughout the poem, and that's no different in the last three lines: "to sleep like a snow-covered road / winding through pines older than him, / without any travelers, and lonely for no one." In addition to the S sounds, there's a lot of assonance on one O, and near assonance echoing off that O. Also, O is a vowel that approaches W, which is--if it makes any sense at all--acoustically more like a vowel than a consonant, but phonologically more a consonant than a vowel. The low, almost mournful sounds of snow, road, older, winding, without, lonely, no, one. Sheesh. If I could use the International Phonetic Associations's symbols, this might be easier. Then I could describe the dipthongs better, where the mourning moan hits most. Regardless, I think I've at least gotten a healthy dig in on the sounds I think are most important to those last lines.

Now the two poems together. I'm surely not the first person to look at them side by side. In fact, they appear to be read side by side. For instance, the titles are two sides of the same coin. There's rice and onions and sesame oil in both. Mention of the father is made in both. Loneliness is in both.

The differences are in the moments. In "Eating Alone," it's fall. The last of the onions has been pulled. The garden is bare, the ground cold. The sun flames through the maple leaves. Maple leaves, some of them anyway, are red in the autumn. Sugar maples' leaves go red. Silver maple's leaves go brown and withery. In "Eating Together," it may well be winter, since the image we have of father's passing is one of a snow-covered road. More time has passed since the father's death in this poem than in "Eating Alone." Still, there's loneliness. In the first poem, the speaker experiences the loneliness by himself. He's left with it. In the second poem, the whole family feels the lonelines as the mother stands in and does what father would normally do at dinner. He did this weeks ago. And he's no longer there to do it. Instead, he is lonely for no one, and everyone is lonely for him.
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[06 Jul 2005|11:49pm]
In looking for an argument on poetry conducted through e-mail (which is relevant to the Billy Collins chapter in Eye of the Poet), I came across this mysterious snippet:
I wish I'd made a memory on that bed this afternoon. Used my time
more effectively, you know? Of course you know. Memories are so nice
to fall asleep to.

I don't know what I was writing about.
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[06 Jul 2005|11:19pm]
So my former boss, Mary Beckman, has put me in touch with Judith Bishop by introducing us electronically. That is to say, by e-mail. And she put us in touch because I'm a poet cum linguist, just as she is. Even if her pieces of paper are far more impressive than mine are. Mary thought that since Judith had already applied to and graduated from an MFA program, she might be able to offer me some advice as I prepare to apply for MFA programs.

Here's what I've come up with on a web search that I think is all to do with this same Judith Bishop--unless, of course, there are two Australian poets by the same name. Which I'm sure would not be an outlandish thing.

Anyway.

From Slope
Judith Bishop has published poems in The Iowa Review, Quarterly West, Heat, and the Oxford Book of Modern Australian Verse (ed. Peter Porter).

Voices of antipodes

The skywriter fallen,
a slick of lightning foraged in the stars
for his remains.

The road foreclosed, as of dawn.

Had his body crept ashore
in its abandonment to dusk,
as we spoke, was a south wind savaging his chest?

Boats abided on the tides,
near brother and diminished!
Mouths opened on the many.

Then we heard
what dissipates in the silence
of response.



Saltarello

I.
There was this: a procession of cloudbands wind skated
over, causing each to align and separate, marching
souled toward a horizontal merger. Flying shibboleths
between us for the tree without a name, we lay apart
under skies white poppies wouldn't scent.

        II.
From a bridge late afternoon, planks and
        goosewire iron to one side and below: you
        and young creekwater were resolute, lark-eyed
        trajectories, establishing yourselves between
        stone and shone; tripping with the progress of
        the world's non-progression; and breaching
        anomy.

III.
Then I came upon you guarding the peace of another,
her white-walled departure. Now her face, beside the
sea: at one remove, but what: a glass inscrutable,
lucid; an only, an ever tenebrae.

        IV.
Induce a weed's eye view of underwater furling
        under. The desire we seeded, we see has come
        to this: water twice trodden in while dawdling

        on the surface grew at last toward our own
        shape, slowly green-mantling the stones we had

        crossed: now waxing uneasy, beaten back by
sun.

V.
That your ear – that flesh – is radiant, a second dawn
emerging, moving into cold trees: that we mourn the
dispersion of our saturnine rings.

        VI.
Bearing lame words which cannot leave the
        bruised path, nor leap apart to bite a fig
        from a branch with the curvature of clouds,
        on a sharp strung morning: glass embittered
        over days unasked for, thus unanswered.

VII.
An incessant, fire-white and brackish pair of cockles,
having once grown fitted to disparate flesh, is
detached; darkdrifted; and gathered at the last.



Sub modo

given,

what remains to be told: a blue campanula
your wax & flare beneath the soles of my child
air tangling    her legs: I
heard the moon    crash down the vines /    for what she yelped
: kill the thief!    your words were taken out

and smoked



From Jacket
Judith Bishop
on Yves Bonnefoy

‘A way among the words’: intimacy, desire and communication in the poetics and poetry of Yves Bonnefoy

Une façon de dire, qui ferait
Qu’on ne serait plus seul dans le langage.

A way among the words, that would be
The end of our solitude in language.[See note [i]]


This piece is 4,000 words or about ten printed pages long.
Read more...Collapse )<a href="http://www.johnkinsella.org/essays/idiosync.html>From John Kinsella's Essays</a>
Idiosyncrasy and the Craft of Poetry: On Les Murray’s The New Oxford Book Of Australian Verse and Peter Porter’s The Oxford Book Modern Australian Poetry

In terms of Australian poetry and its place in the English-language poetry canon, Australia is a fiercely protectionist place. And protectionism has been a strong part of its social and economic history as well. I find it interesting, as an advocate of deregulation, not only within the English-speaking world but between all national and idiolectical poetries, that the first question one feels one must ask when reviewing anthologies of national verse is: in what way are they representative of the poetry that has been or is being written in that country? But also – and this is especially relevant in the case of Les Murray’s The New Oxford Book Of Australian Verse – how representative of a culture, per se, are they? Les Murray is a well known cultural sovereigntist, but at no time does he see the “island” of Australian poetry existing without connection to the rest of the world. Murray is a widely-read poet here in England, one who has developed his own readership while retaining his particular vernacular. And Peter Porter, editor of The Oxford Book Of Modern Australian Verse, is an expatriate Australian, who is as much at home among English poets as he is among Australians. In many ways, this combination is ideally suited to painting a portrait of Australian poetry that is as readable in England or elsewhere as it is “back home”. The point would largely be irrelevant if these were anthologies published only in Australia, but they have been released here in the UK as well by Oxford.

The resistance within Australia to outside evaluations of Australian culture/s is profound. A telling example, if a minor one, can be found in the reaction by a subscriber to an Australian literature studies list on the internet who asked, on the death of a prominent overseas author, “What has this to do with Australian literature?” It has to do with the need to consolidate a literature in its own terms, to throw off the colonialist shackles and create an “identity”. The fringe becoming its own centre. What I like about these anthologies is that neither of them “cringes” in the face of “European” culture (ie perceptually the dominant parental “culture”), but neither of them sets itself up as overtly self-conscious tub-thumping. In a sense, given Porter’s position in English poetry, this would be impossible, but some may find it surprising given Murray’s supposed jingoistic view of Australia. But like much else with Murray, such perceptions have more to do with portrayal by the media than with the actual beliefs of the man. Murray may be self-conscious in terms of cultural rivalries within Australia, and also rivalries between states of mind symbolised by the Athenian and Boeotian divide of European and New World cultures, but at the heart of the issue is the sheer pleasure he gains from participating in and experiencing the vernacular.

Central to Murray’s work is this notion of the Athenian and the Boeotian (terms that arose directly out of a “dialogue” with Peter Porter). Briefly, Athens symbolises the new, the crass, the commercial. It is the abstracting part of the brain (the “forebrain”), the producer of Rationality, while Boeotia is that part of the brain that is imagination, dream and inspiration; it is the place of ritualism and ancestral inheritance (the “poem”).1 Murray examines history as a struggle between these two forces or states of mind. Peter Porter, who had come to symbolise the “exodus” to the place of “enlightenment” and rationality – the Old World – in his poem “On First Looking Into Chapman’s Hesiod”, drew an analogy between Hesiod and Les Murray; he said, “Yes, Australians are Boeotians.” Porter was referring to Murray’s 1972 poem “The Boeotian Count”.

Given the background, given that one publisher is publishing two anthologies – be it covering different time scales, though still considerably overlapping – it is worth examining the selection and editorial rationale against such a backdrop, especially from an English poetry reader’s perspective. But to impose this “Athenian”/”Boeotian” binary on a comparative survey of these anthologies invites problems – the temptation is certainly there, but it is one that should be carried out with caution and circumspection. Both men are more generous than such a divide would allow.

Well, there is the rural tone in the Murray anthology, there is definitely a Boeotian way of looking at things, but there’s plenty of the city. Though there’s not a lot of “high culture”. From transliterated Aboriginal song cycles, to popular rhymes, to poems of the “city” and poems of the “bush”, Murray captures the spirit of free expression that he values so highly in the Australian idiom. It is a personable and “friendly” anthology. Porter is also “broadminded” – we find plenty of the country, but also the urban and “cities of the world” tone. Porter’s criteria seem to have been the best that the best of the time can offer. Apart from the omission of the odd poet I would have felt inclined to include – particularly Harry Hooton – Porter has managed to capture much of the “new” and outward-looking spirit of Australian verse from Robert Fitzgerald and AD Hope, writing in the middle of the century (from August 1945 to be exact) through to Tracy Ryan and Judith Bishop, very recent poets. What is particularly exciting is that it is not a stagnant, retrospective anthology. It suggests and almost pleads for progress. One is left not with the feeling of, “this is what we’ve/they’ve managed to do”, but of “it’s a substantial accomplishment, and much more is possible”.

This is also evident in the updating of the original Murray anthology of 1986 – there is a breadth of possibility, especially in the language usage of poems which deal with familiar themes found throughout the book. But Murray’s book is more about a cultural feeling than specific developments in craft. In many ways Murray’s volume is concerned with poetry as specifically culturally reflective, and Porter’s concern is for the state of poetic craft in Australian poetry – though the picture is somewhat more complex than this.

Murray may go out of his way to choose unusual pieces from poets, or what he terms a poet’s “Strange poem”, as opposed to the poet’s most “accomplished” piece that is frequently anthologised, that is seen as representative of good and Australian poetry. He writes in his brief foreword, “Australian readers will notice that I have tended to steer clear of standard anthology pieces, and have been sparing with the established classics.” This is not to say some of the “great” Australian poems aren’t there, but rather that Murray’s view of the poetry anthology is more representative than canonical. He qualifies by saying, “These latter [that is, the established classics] did present problems, as some of them are so obviously their authors’ best work and so clearly part of the nation’s essential heritage, that to omit them, even for the sake of freshness, would have been merely perverse.” The key here is “the nation’s essential heritage”, for it is the cultural sovereignty of Australia that concerns Murray. His is, above and beyond all else, a book about the evolution of an Australian vernacular.

One of the features of this anthology which was much talked about when its first edition came out in 1986 was that it included translations of Aboriginal song texts and contemporary English-language Aboriginal poetry, the latter beginning with David Unaipon’s “Song of Hungarrda”. As an extension of this, I think it would have been interesting to counterpoint these renditions against contemporary Aboriginal poets who make use of the song cycle, such as Lionel Fogarty or Mudrooroo. The second-last poet featured is the Aboriginal poet Charmaine Papertalk-Green, but it is with a poem that does not counterpoint the presentation of “translation”. The irony is strong though:
<pre>    Wanna Be White

    My man took off yesterday

    with a waagin

    He left me and the kids

    to be something in this world

    said he sick of being

    black, poor and laughed at

    Said he wanted to be white

    have better clothes, a flash car

    and eat fancy

    He said me and the kids

    would give him a bad name

    because we are black too

    So he left with a waagin</pre>
One of the important aspects of the Porter anthology is the inclusion of Fogarty. He uses the colonising language superbly against itself:
<pre>    Tonight overturned hells

    brang surface innocent olds

    Tonight my people don’t wait

    for successions of society

    But yell, sing souls to

    our endless dreaming

    Today my people have a Murri

    Thirtieth century culture

    but with care safe and snarls

    Today my people feel precious as

    human beings burials and birth

    Mankind demands imperative love

    for all, And my people never

    wants to escalating barbarous century.

    For now Today up home they free:

    Tonight they will learn to fight consciences.</pre>
Getting away from the process of anthologising, and examining the poems instead, it seems fair enough to say that it is hard to find a poem in either anthology that isn’t interesting or competent. And in many cases, the poems are good and even stunning. I find it a pleasure to discover those “strange” or not usually anthologised poems that Murray talks about in his introduction. From John Shaw Neilsen one might expect to find “The Orange Tree” and “Crane” but instead we are offered “May”, Schoolgirls Hastening”, and “To the Red Lory”. Though many would argue that “May” is indeed one of Neilsen’s finest:
<pre>    MAY

    Shyly the silver-hatted mushrooms make

    Soft entrance through,

    And undelivered lovers, half awake,

    Hear noises in the dew.

    Yellow in all the earth and in the skies,

    The world would seem

    Faint as a widow mourning with soft eyes

    And falling into a dream.

    Up the long hill I see the slow plough leave

    Furrows of brown;

    Dim is the day and beautiful; I grieve

    To see the sun go down.

    But there are suns a many for mine eyes

    Day after Day:

    Delightsome in grave greenery they rise,

    Red oranges in May.</pre>
Here we find the delicacy, whimsy, and mystery of the best Neilsen poems. It is a lyric that paces itself, is neat without being overly tight, and has just that touch of awkwardness that conjures the characteristic “naive” vision.

It seems strange reading an anthology of modern Australian poetry and finding no Kenneth Slessor – considered by many, despite the claims of Ern Malley, to be Australia’s most influential early Modernist poet. “Five Bells”, one classic which is found in the Murray anthology, doesn’t fit into the post-1945 approach of Porter’s The Oxford Book Of Modern Australian Verse. But recent innovators in verse are to be found in force in the Porter volume. You’ll find good work from John Tranter, John Forbes, Jennifer Maiden, and Robert Adamson. There is also fine work, from the flipside of the coin, from Robert Gray, Geoffery Lehmann, and Fay Zwicky. Something that becomes obvious from Porter’s selection is how artificial the divisions are between different faces of Modernism. The post-imagist Gray and the post-modern Tranter may differ fundamentally in tone and content, but when read against the hybrid work of Francis Webb and even Bruce Beaver it is clear the work shares a common ancestry. And Jennifer Maiden is a poet who refuses almost all labels:
<pre>    ANOREXIA

    Kelly sharpened is powerful, asexual and yawns,

    curls up on tartan cushions with pick-me-up arms,

    viewed by no one but cat, video, grandmother.

    She is cranky with Nan’s tabby. He is sleek

    and haughtily whores, meanwhile demanding all

    the messy food and closeness they can muster.

    She ate last night and will not eat this week.

    Her body lives off itself like anger.

    It was too dumb, too soft, too tall.

    She bites her mouth because it’s still a stranger.</pre>
Most of the “newer” poets who have gained recognition in recent years are there, with particularly good material from Peter Rose, Gig Ryan, and Philip Hodgins.

A poet well represented in both anthologies is the almost archetypal poet Michael Dransfield, who after a reasonably public life of excess died in 1973 at the age of twenty-four, having produced a substantial body of work. Much of this work has been rejected as being rough or trivial, but certain pieces have become decidedly canonised. Dransfield epitomised, in many people’s minds, the “freedoms” and concerns of his era. His poems were often overtly political – both socially and culturally, both caught in the moment and conscious of a poetic inheritance (particularly Swinburne, Keats, and Tennyson) – and personal. He was seen as Australia’s almost legitimate poEete maudit, that romantic we just had to have. But Dransfield did write some important verse. “Fix”, which is found in both anthologies, may not be one of his major poems, but in the context of a “modernising” Australian poetic, and in terms of the process of mythologising the poet as “sufferer” – its “anthemic” quality – it was and is an important one:
<pre>    FIX

    It is waking in the night,

    after the theatres and before the milkman,

    alerted by some signal from the golden drug tapeworm

    that eats your flesh and drinks your peace;

    you reach for your needle and busy yourself

    preparing the utopia substance in a blackened

    spoon held in candle flame

    by now your thumb and finger are leathery

    being so often burned this way

    it hurts much less than withdrawal and the hand

    is needed for little else now anyway.

    Then cordon off the arm with a belt,

    probe for a vein, send the dream transfusion out

    on a voyage among your body machinery. Hits you like sleep –

    sweet, illusory, fast, with a semblance of forever.

    For a while the fires die down in you,

    until you die down in the fires.

    Once you have become a drug addict

    you will never want to be anything else.</pre>
Both anthologies are accomplished in their own terms, and each reads well against the other. If the competence of the Porter anthology strikes through, the breadth and variety of the Murray anthology are equally satisfying. Together, they bring a collective sense of timelessness and change, of movement and permanence. The first poem collected by Murray is a translation of “Lalai (Dreamtime)” recounted by Sam Woolagoodjah, with the opening lines “Dreamtime,/ The first ones lives, those of long ago”; while the second is “The Kangaroo” by Barron Field, written in 1819, which ends with the lines: “Be still the glory of this land,/ Happiest work of finest hand!” The disjunction between the two pieces characterises Australian poetry, or as Richard Whately writes in the early days of the colony:
<pre>    There is a place in distant seas

    Full of Contrarieties:

    There, beasts have mallards’ bills and legs,

    Have spurs like cocks, like hens lay eggs.</pre>
1 See Lawrence Bourke’s A Vivid Steady State, NSW University Press, Sydney, 1992, for more on this.
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[06 Jul 2005|02:34pm]
Woo hoo! I finally finished my entry on Simic. I don't think I should do any more of this stop-start business. When I write an entry on a poet, I need to finish it.
post comment

Some of the poems I'm considering memorizing. [30 Jun 2005|10:49pm]
Moonburn

I stayed under the moon too long.
I am silvered with lust.

Dreams flick like minnows through my eyes.
My voice is trees tossing in the wind.

I loose myself like a flock of blackbirds
storming into your face.

My lightest touch leaves blue prints,
bruises on your mind.

Desire sandpapers your skin
so thin I read the veins and arteries

maps of routes I will travel
till I lodge in your spine.

The night is our fur.
We curl inside it licking.

~

Marge Piercy

I think I already wrote somewhere the Marge Piercy is my mahakaviyatri. My mother poet. The poem that first made me love her was "You Ask Why Sometimes I Say Stop"--the title (and the first line) of course being iambic tetrameter. That poem is not included in this anthology, and in fact, I've only ever seen it included in one anthology. It's unfortunate that poem isn't in the book; it might make my job easier. I memorized that poem as a freshman just for fun. I considered using it as a dramatic monologue for an acting class I was taking then, but ultimately I just memorized it because I loved the poem and wanted to have those words resounding in my mind. Although, I suppose other students are using poems that aren't in the anthology. No reason why I shouldn't explore beyond the borders, too.

*****

Watch Repair

A small wheel
Incandescent,
Shivering like
A pinned butterly.

Hands thrown up
In all directions:

The crossroads
One arrives at
In a nightmare.

Higher than that
Number 12 presides
Like a beekeeper
Over the swarming honeycomb
Of the open watch.

Other wheels
That could fit
Inside a raindrop.

Tools
That must be splinters
Of arctic starlight.

Tiny golden mills
Grinding invisible
Coffee beans.

When the coffee's boiling
Cautiously,
So it doesn't burn us,
We raise it
To the lips
Of the nearest
Ear.

~

Charles Simic

I haven't discussed this poem yet in my Charles Simic entry below. But I will. And that will probably cover some of the reasons I'm interested in reading this for my by-heart poem.

*****

Dear John, Dear Coltrane

a love supreme, a love supreme
a love supreme, a love supreme

Sex fingers toes
in the marketplace
near your father's church
in Hamlet, North Carolina--
witness to this love
in theis calm fallow
of these minds,
there is no substitute for pain:
genitals gone or going,
seed burned out,
you tuck the roots in the earth,
turn back, and move
by river through the swamps,
singing: a love supreme, a love supreme;
what does it all mean?
Loss so great each black
woman expects your failure
in mute change, the seed gone.
You plod up into the electric city--
your song now crystal and
the blues. You pick up the horn
with some will and blow
into the freezing night:
a love supreme, a love supreme--

Dawn comes and you cook
up the thick sin 'tween
importence and death, fuel
the tenor sax cannibal
heart, genitals, and sweat
that makes you clean--
a love supreme, a love supreme--

Why you so black?
cause I am
why you so funky?
cause I am
why you so black?
cause I am
why you so sweet?
cause I am
why you so black?
cause I am
a love supreme, a love supreme:


So sick
you couldn't play Naima,
so flat we ached
for song you'd concealed
with your own blood,
your diseased liver gave
out its purity,
the inflated heart
pumps out, the tenor kiss,
tenor love:
a love supreme, a love supreme--
a love supreme, a love supreme--

~

Michael S. Harper

*****

Marked with D.

When the chilled dough of his flesh went in an oven
not unlike those he fuelled all his life,
I thought of his cataracts ablaze with Heaven
and radiant with the sight of his dead wife,
light streaming from his mouth to shape her name,
'not Florence and not Flo but always Florrie'.
I thought how his cold tongue burst into flame
but only literally, which makes me sorry,
sorry for his sake there's no Heaven to reach.
I get it all from Earth my daily bread
but he hungered for release from mortal speech
that kept him down, the tongue that weighed like lead.

The baker's man that no one will see rise
and England made to feel like some dull oaf
is smoke, enough to sting one person's eyes
and ash (not unlike flour) for one small loaf.

~

Tony Harrison

Well, in typing out this poem, I decided that I'm definitely not going to memorize this one. I was attracted to it because of the rhyme and rhythm--always helpful tools for memorization--but I'm turning it down because of the last two lines of the first stanza. Man, I just hate those lines: "hungered for realease," "mortal speech that kept him down," "weighed like lead." Harrison departed from the references to baking, and those were the references that were making this poem successful. It's only two lines, but those are two enough to severely weaken the poem, at least in my esteem. It's a shame, too, because I like the common diction that permeates most of the poem, the natural speech rhythms. There's much about this poem that's a hit, but I just can't get over what is--to me--the awfulness of lines 11 and 12.

*****

Hanging Fire

I am fourteen
and my skin has betrayed me
the boy I cannot live without
still sucks his thumb
in secret
how come my knees are
always so ashy
what if I die
before morning
and momma's in the bedroom
with the door closed.

I have to learn how to dance
in time for the next party
my room is too small for me
suppose I die before graduation
they will sing sad melodies
but finally
tell the truth about me
There is nothing I want to do
and too much
that has to be done
and momma's in the bedroom
with the door closed.

Nobody even stops to think
about my side of it
I should have been on Math Team
my marks were better than his
why do I have to be
the one
wearing braces
I have nothing to wear tomorrow
will I live long enough
to grow up
and momma's in the bedroom
with the door closed.

~

Audre Lorde

This was the first poem I wrote a critical paper about. I was a freshman. A long time ago. At another university. I'm still not exactly sure why momma's in the bedroom with the door closed. But my theory has changed since I wrote that freshman paper. I used to think that momma was in the bedroom with the door closed because she was depressed. That, of course, was drawn from my experience with my own mother. (And because of that, I've decided that if I invite my mother I can't read this poem, and if I read this poem, I can't invite my mother.) Now, though, I think momma's in the bedroom with the door closed because she's dead: "what if I die / before morning," "suppose I die before graduation / they will sing sad melodies / but finally / tell the truth about me," and "will I live long enough / to grow up." Well, now that I've typed all that out, it seems inescapable: momma's in the bedroom with the door closed because she's dead. I still can't read this poem if my mom's going to be in the audience. It wouldn't be good for her.

*****

Axe Handles

One afternoon the last week in April
Showing Kai how to throw a hatchet
One-half turn and it sticks in a stump.
He recalls the hatchet-head
Without a handle, in the shop
And go gets it, and wants it for his own.
A broken-off axe handle behind the door
Is long enough for a hatchet,
We cut it to length and take it
With the hatchet head
And working hatchet, to the wood block.
There I begin to shape the old handle
With the hatchet, and the phrase
First learned from Ezra Pound
Rings in my ears!
"When making an ax handle
        the pattern is not far off."
And I say this to Kai
"Look: we'll shape the handle
By checking the handle
Of the axe we cut with--"
And he sees. And I hear it again:
It's in Lu Ji's Wen Fu, fourth century
A.D. "Essay on Literature"--in the
Preface: "in making the handle
Of an axe
By cutting wood with an axe
The model is indeed near at hand."
My teacher Shih-hsiang Chen
Translated that and taught it years ago
And I see: Pound was an axe,
Chen was an axe, I am an axe
And my son a handle, soon
to be shaping again, model
And tool, craft of culture,
How we go on.

~

Gary Snyder

This is more an idea poem than a musical poem. But the repetition alone is nice: axe, axe, axe, axe. Sort of like the chopping you'd make to make an axe handle. I even like most of the unconventional punctuation. Unfortunately, I do not at all dig the last two lines. Those totally blow. Well, for me they do. They're doing that "summing up" thing that I tend to hate. This poem would be a lot stronger for me if the poem ended on "soon / to be shaping again." That's not as much of a strike against this poem as it it was against the Harrison poem. What is a strike against it, at least in as far as my consideration of it as a by-heart poem, is that the lack of music will make it harder for me to memorize. And while this isn't the Song of Roland, neither is it any haiku.

*****

Since the discussion yesterday, I'm also considering reciting a poem in French. The reason for this is because I find it easier to memorize things in French than I do things in English. And the reason for that is because I pay attention to sound more than sense. I can relate it to remembering songs. There are plenty of songs that people can hum the melody to, but for those same songs, people may be able to remember only half, only a quarter of the lyrics. I had to perform a scene from "Le Voyageur Sans Baggage" last term, and I still have all my lines memorized.

"Jacques! Ah, c'est bete... j'ai envie de rire. Tes familles s'impatientent... viens te demander quels passes de calculs et d'avarice ils ont a te proposer." And so on.

*****

By Heart

The songs come at us first; and then the rhymed
Verses like speech that half-sings; then the tunes
Of summer evening--the train whistle's sigh
Westering, fading, as I lay in bed
Sunset still creeping past the lowered shade;
The gossip of swallows; the faint, radioed
Reed section of a dance band through an open
Window down at the far end of the street;
And then the stings of digits that we learn
To keep like bunched keys ready to unlock
All the boxes we get assigned to us
By the uncaring sheriffs of life itself.
We play by ear, but learn the words by heart;
(Visions we have by head); yet even when
The sight of the remembered page has dimmed
The jingles that we gleaned from it remain
Lodged with us, useful, sometimes, for the work
Of getting a grip on certain fragile things.
We are ourselves from birth committed to
Memory, to broad access to a past
Framing and filling any presentness
Of self that we could really call our own.
We grasp the world by ear, by heart, by head,
And keep it in a soft continuingness
That we first learned to get by soul, or something.

~

John Hollander
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From the Times Literary Supplement... [28 Jun 2005|08:02am]
"A new Sappho poem"
Martin West
21 June 2005

Since classical times, Sappho has been a source of fascination and romantic construction....

And here's another translation, done by an LJer, sovay (I hope the Greek text isn't compromised):

Greek text courtesy of [info]nineweaving, who scanned it. (I am not sure whether it will display properly on a browser not configured for the font, but since it's Unicode, a quick trip to Perseus may help. If not, there's always the scanned PDF!) Bracketed text courtesy of Martin West's conjectures. Apologies for non-Greek punctuation in a few instances, because this is one hundred percent cut-and-paste, and there's bizarrely no such thing as a raised dot on Perseus. Translation courtesy of me.* Inaccuracies, the same.

ὔμμες πεδὰ Μοίσαν ἰ]οκ[ό]λπων κάλα δῶρα, παῖδες,
σπουδάσδετε καὶ τὰ]ν φιλάοιδον λιγύρον χελύνναν:

ἔμοι δ' ἄπαλον πρίν] ποτ' [ἔ]οντα χρόα γῆρας ἤδη
ἐπέλλαβε, λεῦκαι δ' ἐγ]ένοντο τρίχες ἐκ μελαίναν:

βάρυς δέ μ' ὀ [θ]ῦμος πεπόηται, γόνα δ' [ο]ὐ φέροισι,
τὰ δή ποτα λαίψηρ' ἔον ὄρχησθ' ἴσα νεβρίοισι.

τὰ <μὲν> στεναχίσδω θαμέως: ἀλλὰ τί κεν ποείην;
ἀγήραον ἄνθρωπον ἔοντ' οὐ δύνατον γένεσθαι.

καὶ γάρ π[ο]τα Τίθωνον ἔφαντο βροδόπαχυν αὔων
ἔρωι φ . . αθεισαν βάμεν' εἰς ἔσχατα γᾶς φέροισα[ν,

ἔοντα [κ]άλον καὶ νέον, ἀλλ' αὖτον ὔμως ἔμαρψε
χρόνωι πόλιον γῆρας, ἔχοντ' ἀθανάταν ἄκοιτιν.

About the violet-lapped** Muses' beautiful gifts, children,
and the clear music-loving tortoiseshell, be serious:

but my skin that once was tender, old age has already
seized, and my hair has gone white from dark:

and my heart has turned heavy, and my knees would not bear me,
that once were dancers light as fawns.

I sigh over these things often: but what can I do?
It's impossible for a person not to grow old.***

An example: they say that rose-armed Eos, [. . . . . .]
with desire, once carried Tithonos off to the ends of the earth,

young and beautiful as he was, but in time grey age
caught up with him, who had an immortal wife.

*Very literal, or such to the best of my abilities at the moment. Go read [info]poliphilo for poetry.
**Or "violet-breasted," in the sense of bosom, since κόλπος can mean both; any hollow, any fold.
***More literally, "it's impossible for a person to be never-aging." As differentiated from "ageless"—what never grows, as it never dies; rather than someone who may reach maturity, but never old age, never decay. [info]nineweaving has suggested "unwithering" for ἀγήραος, and I'll buy it.
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[21 Jun 2005|10:46am]
I just read someone else's entry and thought that it read like this:

Dear Bruno,
You are a cat.


What this someone else had actually written was this:

Dear Bruno,
You are a cunt.


I like my misreading better.
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