Saturday, May 25, 2013

Poets on Painters: One Medium Addresses Another

In our fifth session on May 23, we considered poems by Linda Pastan and James Arthur that dealt with artists and art, how one medium addresses another. In "Edward Hopper, Untitled" (a painting better known as "Solitary Figure in a Theater") we saw two stanzas describing the scene that Hopper offers us, and a third stanza with some editorial opinions ("cliche of loneliness"). Don offered an interesting suggestion, to split the last three lines off into a fourth stanza--this would break up the symmetry of the 8-line stanzas, but would underscore the interesting and controversial point made at the end. Maybe someone will go to the Whitney Museum one day and tell us if this painting is, in fact, "oil on board."

We speculated on the model James Arthur had in mind for the "Death of the Painter." Matisse had been suggested; Audubon and Gauguin were also mentioned. I sent James Arthur an e-mail on the subject, and received a prompt, gracious and very helpful reply:

"You're right; the artist in "The Death of the Painter" is based partly on Matisse. He's also based partly on Picasso -- and some details of his life are fabricated. I wrote the poem at an artist residency program in Provence when I was 30; the week before writing the poem, I'd been to see the Musee Matisse in Nice, and also the Musee Picasso in Antibes. 

But I'm glad you feel that you didn't need (additional) information to enjoy the poem. I often base my poems on my own life, and on the things around me -- but I want my poems to be accessible to be as many people as possible. I ended up feeling that mentioning Matisse or Picasso by name would restrict the poem's audience, and would give me less freedom to invent." (Italics mine)

So our conclusion that the painter was probably a composite seems to be what the poet intended. We also enjoyed Martha's "Pride of Place," which added to the ekphrastic experience of the morning.

I should have included in last week's report how much we enjoyed Dave's poem "Watch Out for Things," which won first prize in the Light Verse category of the 2013 Burlington Writers Club competition.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Kooser, Koertge Yield Genuine Insights

In our fourth session we considered two poems chosen by Billy Collins for the Library of Congress' online collection Poetry 180. In Ted Kooser's "After Years" we found genuine insights that are more than "small,"  regarding loss and time and the causes and impacts of things that go barely noticed. Collins describes "After Years" as "a love poem in which the poet's imagination flies far from his own experience."  One further thought:  I think there's a definite connection between the falling of the ancient oak and the old women scattering corn. 

Another piece of information about Ron Koertge that supports the impression of him that comes through in "Do You Have Any Advice..." One of his books is a novel written in free verse, narrated by a 14-year-old, titled Shakespeare Bats Clean-Up.

Next week we will see how two poets draw the work of visual artists. For this you may need to be "dutifully at your desks."

Link to Poetry 180:
In Poetry 180 you will find poems by Jane Kenyon, Kay Ryan, Natasha Trethewey, Franz Wright, Debora Greger, Mary Oliver, Thomas Lux, Sharon Olds, Donald Justice, Linda Pastan, Mark Irwin, Eavan Boland, Steve Kowit and many others.

Link to Ron Koertge:

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Hirschfield Poems Embody Mindfulness

From morning unlocking the lake to the turning of doorknobs, one year into the next, Jane Hirschfield's poems caused us to focus on "the magnification of being."  We noted the importance of Buddhist teachings in the poet's life and work, but should also keep in mind the following observations:

"While many reviews mention, even make central, Hirschfield's Buddhism as the prevailing filter of her work, Hirschfield has expressed frustration in multiple interviews. 'I always feel a slight dismay if I am called a Zen poet for being so labeled. I am not. I am a human poet, that's all.'"

We also enjoyed a poem by Helen Deutsch which Pat had brought to our attention, and Martha's poignant "The Road Not Taken."

Next we will look at two poems from the online collection "Poetry 180," put together by Billy Collins.

Friday, May 3, 2013

We Hobble Off, Pondering Zeno

In our second session on May 2, we saw again how Billy Collins can weave serious issues into an entertaining narrative. Just as we compare the Cornish hen and the trout amandine, we note the differences between an abstract philosophical/mathematical proposition with "the world where things do arrive."  The tone of the poem shifts several times, from the satiric setting of the scene in the restaurant, to the tragic circumstances of St. Sebastian and the wife of William Burroughs; then, in the world "where people get where the are going," to the loved one arriving in your arms--but then back to Sebastian. Among many good points offered in our discussion was the contrast between things that may happen and things that do happen. Below is a link to the various artistic representations of St. Sebastian, including the one that is said to resemble "a hedgehog bristling with quills." In using the word hagiographer, the narrator reminds us that he is a college professor as well as an ironic observer. I think I'll have the trout.

We puzzled over Terese Svoboda's "Neighborhood Watch," noting from the outset clever word play ("a weather of sweaters mostly moth-woven...").We were left with a picture of a narrator  who is lonely, who describes an urban setting with perverse images of the everydayness of the world we live in--as one person put it, a poem "of thanksgiving and complaint." And maybe just a bit of hope at the end: Boot it up.

Dave began our session with an inventive collection of everyday sayings that led nicely into Collins and Svoboda. Elmer provided us with a very different setting and tone, another sensitive evoking of a Midwest boyhood. Notice that the poet does not have to say 'this happened in Indiana in about 1930'. He accomplishes that with a single word: horehound.

Next week we will explore two poems by Jane Hirschfield, a poet thought to be influenced by Buddhism. She says, "I always feel a slight dismay if I am called a Zen poet. I am not. I am a human poet."

Link to images of St. Sebastian: