Thursday, February 28, 2013

We conclude with Apocalyptic Images, A Terse Summation

In our concluding session, we considered the apocalyptic, cinematic imagery of Nicholas Christopher's "The Graveyard Shift" (which appeared in The New Yorker March 19, 2007) and John Hollander's terse, perfectly framed meditation on writing.

"The Graveyard Shift" examines the role of the functionary who is complicit in terrible things, ending on a note of a little hope, or perhaps none at all. Christopher may have in mind a larger metaphor, the place of the individual who either will or will not go along with society's program. Finally, we considered, as we always do, the personal level: Christopher's father had worked on the Manhattan Project.

Hollander suggests that our fidgeting with the "worry beads of words" is what defines the poet's task: as Dave aptly reminded us, the right words in the right order.

In Martha's poem the antiheroine misjudges the pitch and crashes again, unlike Sisyphus, sentenced only by her own actions. We agreed that the five-line stanzas make it a more complex and compelling poem.

The visitor to the art museum has greatly enjoyed our six weeks together. I hope we can say, with Melanie Rehak, "here,/I was here and I knew it." For those so inclined, we will reconvene on Thursday, April 25, at 10:45 a.m. at First Baptist Church on West Friendly Avenue in Greensboro.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Songs of Self and Perception Highlight Fourth Week

This week we looked into two poems that offered challenges and opportunities for insight and interpretation.

In Elizabeth Macklin's "Three Views of a Woman Inhaling," we were dazzled by images of sound, sight and small as we pondered "the mysteries," which. we concluded, referred to the wonder and necessity of sensory perception. I found an interesting critical appreciation of Macklin's work:

Elizabeth Macklin is a poet of the city. Her subjects are everywhere: inside apartment houses and alongside towering buildings, on streets and sidewalks, or beneath them, at the water's edge and in the changing heavens. Here the large questions are posed, the small joys celebrated. 'Here a loving sky's come out of a deep clear blue.' From beginning to end, in her able hands, through her painterly eye (Italics mine) and rich vision, the odd scraps of urban life are converted into a sort of Platonic dialogue of fruitful enigmas, paradoxes and playful epiphanies."

Melanie Rehak's poem held for some a deeper resonance, a love poem of a sort, certainly a carpe diem poem--reminding her and us to "seize the day"--balancing the seasons of the "sweet green park" with the individual who longs for the near-misses of her life. The trees, "certain their time has come," are aware that they are part of a perpetual cycle (their "delicate arrogance") and we have only once shot. Or is there more than that?

Regarding the title and subtitle: Clear enough why these are appropriate musings for a birthday. Modernism refers, in part, to a movement in literature and the arts following World War I that challenged the traditions and assumptions of the past--poets like Pound and Eliot; novels such as James Joyce's Ulysses; Picasso, Dali and Duchamp in art; and the composer Stravinsky are all examples. You see the phrase "the modernist impulse" in book titles, such as The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism, and The Modernist Impulse in Canadian Women's Poetry. So how Rehak sees 'the modernist impulse' applying to her life and narrative is still not completely clear, and may even be used ironically.

In Kathy's poem--Walt Whitman on Facebook--there is a layer of social commentary ("aisles of tuna, paper towels), but beneath that, phrased mostly as questions, a tender evoking of what is truly important.

Remember that we will not meet on Thursday, February 21. For our last session on February 28, please note two corrections to the text, in "At the Art Museum": in the sixth line, tips should read tops, and the second line in the last stanza should read " the Rodin courtyard."

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Great Kindness in Poems of Fathers and Daughters

The poems of fathers and daughters we read this morning held a sense of warmth and caring—a favorite line by Howard Nemerov says, “May great kindness come of it in the end.”

In Dan Masterson’s poem we see a father preparing his child (maybe nine or ten)for what will come, strong images of things heard and seen. We puzzled over the last two stanzas, and conclude that the pronouns they and them refer to the rainbows, the term the little girl uses to describe the halos of light she sees around objects, a sign that things are getting worse. The parents had meant to explain this in advance. But they would be there nonetheless. “She wonders if we can see them (that is, the way she sees them)…and we say/we do.”

Note the power of the two lines with just two words: “And sit” in the second stanza and “we do.” What is most poignant is not just the fact but the process of losing vision.

And Emma was right—it is the kitchen lamp, not camp.

It is possible the child suffered from retinitis pigmentosa, an inexorable disease over a long period of time.

We meet a different kind of loving and likeable family in “Fish Fry Daughter.” Here “the double knot of father and daughter” includes “haddock-scented hands.” Even the sub-plots of who said what to whom and why have a cheerful tone. The wise daughter knows that a father has many obligations.

We also felt warmth and kindness in the poems of two other wise daughters, Cynthia and Kathy. Memory is often the beginning of a poem, but we saw here how care in selecting and arranging the details is what makes memory into poetry.

Next week we will continue to observe sensory perception in Elizabeth Macklin’s “Three Views.” I suggested the views are of the same person. You may read it differently—we’ll discuss next week.


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