Monthly Archives: November 2009

Monday’s Verse 11/23/09

… anyway, what was I saying? Oh yeah: lay off my booze! Ah, so busy there I almost missed the verse. Well here it is, right under the wire.

As I was actually saying, last week, R.S. Gwynn is supposedly associated with the “new formalism” movement in poetry. I didn’t know there was such a movement, but there’s an anthology out, so there must be. At the time the movement earned its name–the mid-80’s–critic Dana Gioia remarked that “the revival of traditional forms” was only one of any number of possible responses to a sort of bankruptcy sensed in the poetry of that time… a sort of congeries of tail-ends of several spent strains in verse written in English. And Gioia was by no means disparaging a “return to form” (indeed, he’s been a part of it). Of today’s poet, Gwynn, Gioia wrote,

“By the time I had finished the volume [Gwynn’s The Drive-In] I knew I had come upon one of the truly talented and original poets of my generation. I should probably also note two other obvious qualities of Gwynn’s poetry. First, he is ingeniously funny. Second, he is an effortless master of verse forms. No American poet of his generation has written better sonnets, and very few can equal him in the ballade, couplet, rondeau, or pantoum—not to mention the half dozen new forms he has invented. But, to be honest, it was neither Gwynn’s considerable formal skill nor his wicked humor that first attracted me, though those qualities surely added to my pleasure. Instead, it was his depth of feeling and intense lyricality.”

Yes, he is funny. Anyone who has spent time near a graduate department of English will appreciate this wisp of a poem:

Writer-in-Residence

He roared up to the cook-out on his Harley,
Invoking blessings from the Muse of Barley,
Passed round a joint, sliced the brie with his switchblade,
And groped the Chairman’s young wife, all of which made
The pallid tribe disperse with nervous laughter
And grant him tenure very soon thereafter.

And anyone who finds the beauty in late fall (I do not) will like this nature poem that seems to create a mini-refrain for each line. Happy Thanksgiving. -ed.

Coastal Freeze

It will come with warnings published on the air,
So beware
Laying bets on gulf-born breezes harboring
Hopes of spring.
Dwarf azaleas, playing suckers’ odds with doom,
Race to bloom,
But the front’s relentless lashing drains each bud-
Full of blood,
Laying low without distinction as it kills
Daffodils,
Calla lilies, bougainvillea, mustard greens.
For it means
All beginner’s luck runs sour, to be lost
To the frost,
Like a wealth of unconsidered good advice.
Glazed with ice,
Greenness shatters, brittle as an ancient bone,
And our own
Stunned camellia stands, white petals shed below—
Snow on snow.

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Monday’s Verse, Nov. 16, 2009

All,

Aside from the shocking temerity of Mr. Murphy’s reply (how dare you!), I really loved that poem. I’d noted that the pantoum can create a sense of incantation, and thought privately that it was a good form for nostalgia… but that poem really created an amazing atmosphere of paranoia! I’d never heard of R.S. Gwynn, a true southerner before. There’s a brief bio, some approbative quotes, and a few poems here:

http://www.thehypertexts.com/R.%20S.%20%28Sam%29%20Gwynn%20Poet%20Poetry%20Picture%20Bio.htm

Sounds like a kick-ass dude, and one critic noted… well, hell, you know what? We’re gonna come back to him next week.

Keeping with the southern theme, though, alert reader Andrea Barrett of Nashville, TN, provides this week’s poem. Herself a therapist, she recommended Forrest Hamer, a working psychoanalyst who lectures at UC Berkeley and just happens to have published poems in some of the country’s finest literary periodicals. In keeping, also, with the general idea of therapy, I am opening the column for comments this week on the subject of the poem’s 3rd line. The tone/theme of the poem itself seems right for the occasion, and I did not even mention last week the gruesome and tragic shootings that happened at Fort Hood, in Texas. I think we should all feel free to reflect on that tragedy, and the perhaps personal ways it’s affected us, in any way we like. Oh and before you assume that this is free verse, remember that his name’s an anagram for “form star here.”

Have a good week,

-ed.

LESSON

It was 1963 or 4, summer,
and my father was driving our family
from Ft. Hood to North Carolina in our 56 Buick.
We’d been hearing about Klan attacks, and we knew

Mississippi to be more dangerous than usual.
Dark lay hanging from the trees the way moss did,
and when it moaned light against the windows
that night, my father pulled off the road to sleep.

Noises
that usually woke me from rest afraid of monsters
kept my father awake that night, too,
and I lay in the quiet noticing him listen, learning
that he might not be able always to protect us

from everything and the creatures besides;
perhaps not even from the fury suddenly loud
through my body about his trip from Texas
to settle us home before he would go away

to a place no place in the world
he named Viet Nam. A boy needs a father
with him, I kept thinking, fixed against noise
from the dark.

-1995

Nov 9, 2009 Black Stillbirth

Readers,

wringing so much from a poem of couplets, we might have twice as much to say about a poem written in quatrains. I started thinking about it yesterday, how endlessly flexible they seem in the English language, how very nearly a default mode for lyric poetry. They are on the one hand the most rigid of formal choices–historically tried-and-true, the keystone of the sonnet, only four lines, no more no less!–and yet they seem to be the most transparent: when we read a poem of four-line stanzas, we hardly see the form at all. Here’s a little construction that puts the “four” back in formal: the pantoum. I’d thought it was another middle eastern form, but in fact it originated about 600 years ago in the Malay language, in what is now Indonesia. Victor Hugo is credited with introducing it to the West, and it became popular in 19th century French verse. There are just a handful of famous examples in English, including one by that elegant rake, John Ashbery. You can hear Caroline Kizer reading one here:

http://poetry.about.com/gi/o.htm?zi=1/XJ/Ya&zTi=1&sdn=poetry&cdn=education&tm=481&f=00&tt=14&bt=0&bts=0&zu=http%3A//www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15246

Rogers & Hammerstein even wrote one for the musical “Flower Drum Song” (“I Am Going to Like It Here”)!

A pantoum can be as long or short as it needs to be, and the 2nd and 4th lines of each stanza are recycled as the 1st and 3rd lines of each following stanza. The final stanza loops back to the first for its as-yet-unrepeated 1st and 3rd lines. These requirements make it difficult to create any sense, and also make a “normal” speech flow challenging. But in the right hands it also creates an incantatory refrain effect. Further, the repeated lines and words tend to take on new meanings in their new contexts. This is especially true in today’s poem, by Belgian-born-and-raised Laure-Anne Bosselaar. Ashbery refers to the meaning of a poem as being not much more than “the time it takes to unroll,” and the time of unrolling is important in this poem: it gets us back to where we started, changed. There’s something haunting and cryptic and autumnal about this piece, which is why, surely, the poet’s name anagrammizes to “a seasonal blear rune.” -ed.





STILLBIRTH


On a platform, I heard someone call out your name:
No, Laetitia, no.
It wasn’t my train—the doors were closing,
but I rushed in, searching for your face.

But no Laetitia. No.
No one in that car could have been you,
but I rushed in, searching for your face:
no longer an infant. A woman now, blond, thirty-two.

No one in that car could have been you.
Laetitia-Marie was the name I had chosen.
No longer an infant. A woman now, blond, thirty-two:
I sometimes go months without remembering you.

Laetitia-Marie was the name I had chosen:
I was told not to look. Not to get attached—
I sometimes go months without remembering you.
Some griefs bless us that way, not asking much space.

I was told not to look. Not to get attached.
It wasn’t my train—the doors were closing.
Some griefs bless us that way, not asking much space.
On a platform, I heard someone calling your name.

-2007

Monday’s Verse, Nov. 9, 2009

Readers,

wringing so much from a poem of couplets, we might have twice as much to say about a poem written in quatrains. I started thinking about it yesterday, how endlessly flexible they seem in the English language, how very nearly a default mode for lyric poetry. They are on the one hand the most rigid of formal choices–historically tried-and-true, the keystone of the sonnet, only four lines, no more no less!–and yet they seem to be the most transparent: when we read a poem of four-line stanzas, we hardly see the form at all. Here’s a little construction that puts the “four” back in formal: the pantoum. I’d thought it was another middle eastern form, but in fact it originated about 600 years ago in the Malay language, in what is now Indonesia. Victor Hugo is credited with introducing it to the West, and it became popular in 19th century French verse. There are just a handful of famous examples in English, including one by that elegant rake, John Ashbery. You can hear Caroline Kizer reading one here:

http://poetry.about.com/gi/o.htm?zi=1/XJ/Ya&zTi=1&sdn=poetry&cdn=education&tm=481&f=00&tt=14&bt=0&bts=0&zu=http%3A//www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15246

Rogers & Hammerstein even wrote one for the musical “Flower Drum Song” (“I Am Going to Like It Here”)!

A pantoum can be as long or short as it needs to be, and the 2nd and 4th lines of each stanza are recycled as the 1st and 3rd lines of each following stanza. The final stanza loops back to the first for its as-yet-unrepeated 1st and 3rd lines. These requirements make it difficult to create any sense, and also make a “normal” speech flow challenging. But in the right hands it also creates an incantatory refrain effect. Further, the repeated lines and words tend to take on new meanings in their new contexts. This is especially true in today’s poem, by Belgian-born-and-raised Laure-Anne Bosselaar. Ashbery refers to the meaning of a poem as being not much more than “the time it takes to unroll,” and the time of unrolling is important in this poem: it gets us back to where we started, changed. There’s something haunting and cryptic and autumnal about this piece, which is why, surely, the poet’s name anagrammizes to “a seasonal blear rune.” -ed.

STILLBIRTH


On a platform, I heard someone call out your name:
No, Laetitia, no.
It wasn’t my train—the doors were closing,
but I rushed in, searching for your face.

But no Laetitia. No.
No one in that car could have been you,
but I rushed in, searching for your face:
no longer an infant. A woman now, blond, thirty-two.

No one in that car could have been you.
Laetitia-Marie was the name I had chosen.
No longer an infant. A woman now, blond, thirty-two:
I sometimes go months without remembering you.

Laetitia-Marie was the name I had chosen:
I was told not to look. Not to get attached—
I sometimes go months without remembering you.
Some griefs bless us that way, not asking much space.

I was told not to look. Not to get attached.
It wasn’t my train—the doors were closing.
Some griefs bless us that way, not asking much space.
On a platform, I heard someone calling your name.

-2007

Monday’s Verse, Nov. 2, 2009

Greetings fellow adulators of Erato,

Today’s poem is sort of a history lesson, a formal exemplum, and a mystery all in one. I wanted to continue down the path of formal analysis and remembered our friend the ghazal, a strictly repetitive lyric arrangement of couplets made popular by the Persian, Urdu, and Turkish-speaking poets of the 13th century, although its roots stretch back to Arabic writers of the 6th century. The OED tells me that “ghazal” entered the English language in the late 18th century, while a dictionary of literary terms explains that the word comes from the Arabic for love-making. Meanwhile, the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics points out that the topic of a ghazal is traditionally erotic love, and that the author typically drops his own name somewhere near the end. The rhyme scheme of a ghazal is

aa ba ca da ea fa…

and many writers in English choose to use as the rhyme the same word, not just the same end sound (a less demanding version of the sestina we saw last week, perhaps). And ghazals are typically not too darn long, perfect reading for this forum.

But that’s not the half of it. Because this version by American poet Craig Arnold (1967-2009–his 42nd birthday would have been Nov. 16th) contains a sort of biography-in-miniature of the Spanish poet Federico  García Lorca (1898-1936), a hero as much for his associations with the avant-garde and anti-Fascists as for his fairly open homosexuality. It’s still not clear whether he was murdered for personal or political details, although I leave it to another reader (hint hint) to fill us in on the references Arnold makes here. Arnold, meanwhile, disappeared just this April while exploring a remote, active volcano on a Japanese island. He is assumed to have fallen to his death from a high trail.

Craig Arnold was educated at Yale and The University of Utah, and taught in Wyoming. He was also a member of the synth-pop band Iris, and known to be a mesmerizing performer of his own work, which he recited from memory, often clad in black pants and a black leather jacket. Appropriate, then, that his name is an anagram for “rad caroling.” Well I’ve gone on. As you read the poem, think about whether and how it fulfills the formal standards laid out in paragraph 1. What other formal choices is the writer making along the way? Does this poem read like a rigidly formal poem? Or, if it seems more “natural,” how does the writer achieve that effect? What, ultimately, is Arnold’s subject here? -ed.

GHAZAL FOR GARCIA LORCA

Still you came back knowing you must die in Granada,
intricate, tricky, disapproving, prying Granada.

One hand grips the collar, the other sounds the pocket.
They make no room for the shameless or the shy in Granada.

The fingers still point. The smiles always know.
Everything seemed to me about to cry in Granada.

The steep cobbled streets and cobblestones dewed by the cold,
late snow cradled in valleys against the sky in Granada.

The sketches stitched by your big sister into cushions
A bus I might have taken but didn’t try in Granada.

The guitar hot from the lathe, the leather ottoman,
all I wanted but had no room to buy in Granada.

Walking at night my sandals marked me American–
no one goes out in less than a coat and tie in Granada.

No one above contempt. I’ll never visit the caves.
I missed you every place and never knew why in Granada.

I felt at home, how home is hard with cruel people,
home even the gypsies leave, waving goodbye in Granada.

An absinthe glass, a slope clouded in rhododendron,
corroded-copper colored tile that caught my eye in Granada.

An Oh, an Ay, a consolation we could wander
hand in hand with, Garcia Lorca and I, in Granada.