Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Visits to the Exercise Room and a Motel Room

In Robert Pinsky's "A Poetry Reading at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas" we considered the place of poetry in American life--relegated to smaller quarters, poetry ("when the words all agreed to point in one direction") has the power to be uplifting and ennobling: "Maybe we could all do something brave if we tried...Our lives might change today."  We saw again that the actual source material matters far less than the poem itself, and when we suspected that a reading my Robert Bly had inspired this poem (http://www.robertbly.com/r_e_billstafford.html), it was the words of Robert Pinsky that put us in the room with Sister Faith.

In another room--a shabby motel--Peter Cooley's narrator provides telling details (red shoe under the bed...tracery of cigarette ash) and ponders "what has been ended here/or what begun"). But against the tawdry stories of past occupants of this room is the narrator's life, a long marriage with "repeated passages of middling weather." His conference is over, he is going home: a lovely and unusual tribute to a certain kind of love.

In Session #6 will will consider again the evoking of time and place, and then conclude on June 5 with our luncheon meeting at Penny Byrn in High Point.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Sports in Background of Alexie, Halpern Poems

In our fourth session we found games played by the young to be an effective background for serious thought. In Sherman Alexie's "At a Navajo Monument Valley Tribal School," the basic contrast is set in the first two lines: "The football field rises/to meet the mesa..." Native boys enjoy a game that is not theirs ("Everyone is the quarterback") and the fathers enjoy "stomping red dust straight down." But one cannot miss the wistful sense of isolation, echoed by the Greek chorus of the eighth-grade girls' track team: "wild horses, wild horses, wild horses."

In considering "Air" by Donald Halpern, we worked to understand "time made simple by the loss of detail." Again a team of young girls underscores, if only by contrast, what is going on. ("Maybe she knew they were there...") Whether of actual life or perhaps cognitive life, this is an arresting poem of loss.

With Elmer we again had the privilege of sharing an experience of college years in Indiana. Congratulations again to Martha on winning first place in the Light Verse category of the Burlington Writers Club contest.

Here are a couple of links for further reading on George Bilgere

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Lighter and Darker Tones in Poems of George Bilgere

George Bilgere, his tone jovial and ironic, continues the motif of encroaching technology that was prompted last week by Stephen Burt. In "Bridal Shower," Bilgere draws us in with the title--where will the bridal shower show up in the poem? He was prompted to write this poem by the sight of people walking across campus or in restaurants talking on cell phones.  He longs for someone, phoneless in a distant cafe,  with whom he can have genuine communication. But what is not stated--and came out in an excellent observation in our discussion: everyone else, albeit via cell phone, is communicating with someone, and the narrator is left with the apostrophe that is both funny and sad: "O person like me..."

With the title  "At the Vietnam Memorial" Bilgere gives us essential information without telling us too much. The poem begins and ends with writing on a wall. The year 1968 hints at what is going on. The tragedy of Paul Castle's life is evident; less so, the outcome for the narrator and others "who trail/obscurely, in the wake of the swift." In rereading the poem, I was particularly struck by the words: "I don't recall his time."

We enjoyed Martha Golensky's "The Color of Loss," with the inherited friend and the spectrum of colors. Congratulations to Martha on winning first place in the Light Verse category of the Burlington Writers Club contest. I have asked her to read "The Tinkerer" tomorrow.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Poems by Barbara Ras, Stephen Burt Focus on Nature

In Barbara Ras' "Our Flowers" we found, amid striking imagery of storms, electricity and clouds, once again, the story of a relationship, probably a couple in their middle years, one that has gone through some failure (like the Internet instructions) but seems to have survived. We noted the obvious differences (his interest in substations, hers in clouds). Dreaming our own painful music, we await the next storm.

Stephen Burt begins his poem's metaphor in the first line--"Low dandelion leaves are zoned commercial--and sustains it throughout. We seem to be talking about "the natural disaster of humanity," surely an ecological statement and perhaps political as well. But we did not resolve the significance of the two lines in Italics at the poem's heart. The idea of "another world" appears frequently, sometimes in a religious context, once by Yeats (I could not run down the reference to Elizabeth Bishop)--but none of that helps us. The enigmatic quality of that couplet is what takes this poem into new and intriguing ground.

I believe we will find George Bilgere entertaining but not without very serious content.