Friday, February 10, 2012

Shepherd's Center Poetry: February 2012

Several of our number were away this past Thursday, and so I thought I’d post a summary of our discussion on the “Learning and Becoming” poems.

We had guessed the previous week that William Logan’s “Mysteries of the Armchair” might be a recollection of a less-than-perfect upbringing—I think we can be absolutely certain that is the case with the poems by Sharon Olds and Franz Wright. Perhaps a better title for the session would have been the last line of Olds’ poem: Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.

In “I Go Back to 1937” we see her parents at their college graduations, perhaps in different parts of the country (him definitely in the west, maybe California, where Olds grew up), the father arrogant, the mother vulnerable, both unfit for the marriage and parenthood that followed. There is anger in this poem, but also regret and sadness. After all, she did want to be born; this was her life, her growing up. The poem moves rapidly, sped along by commas. Olds does not reveal much autobiographical information in her interviews, but there is reason to think this poem is based mostly on fact.

Franz Wright’s “unavailable” father was the poet James (not Charles) Wright—they constitute the only parent-child combination to win the Pulitzer for poetry. But his childhood—an absent father, a hostile stepfather and, again, a vulnerable mother—was wrapped up in books. The key seems to be the line “I get down on my knees and thank God for them”—them, referring both back to the"loneliness, boredom and terror" that formed his motivation, and ahead into the four texts mentioned in the last stanza. Du Fu was an 8th century BCE Chinese poet. The last two lines present the reverse of what we might have expected. Carolyn summarized the poem nicely with a quotation recalled from “Dead Poets Society”: we read to know that we are not alone.

“School Tie” served as a footnote to the themes discussed above.

We heard a poem by Audrey Elmore that had a lovely movement to it, noting the milestones in three generations of a family.

We had several visitors last Thursday from a class that was not meeting that day. Remember that there is no class next Thursday (February 16), and we will meet February 23 for our last session on “Images of Place.”

We have learned that the Shepherd’s Center does plan to offer the poetry group again in the spring, starting April 19 at First Baptist Church.