Intermission w/reflection

First, many thanks to Lesley Wheeler for her Virtual Salon series–in this one, she reviews/interviews Elizabeth Savage and Yours Truly: Virtual Salon No. 6

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Herewith, a different sort of response for National Poetry Month; and I’m not sure I would call it a poem so much as a reflection–indeed, a prayer. It’s too sentimental to work into a finished piece, perhaps. Let’s call it an intermission, as I have at least one more poetry collection to respond to before April closes.

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Easter Prayer for My Dad

A wedge of mackerel clouds points to the southeast horizon where just beyond
a low hill church bells ring for Easter morning and a woodpecker states
chuck chuck chuck as it makes its straight flight across field from one dead
ash tree to another, blackbirds calling wooker-chee after the bells cease chiming.
I think of Dad, standing at the pulpit, hands raised in grace or supplication, his
voice sonorous in the high-ceilinged church, a man wearing a robe and collar
and white silk embroidered in gold having laid away the purple of sorrow and
preparation. All the church’s raiment white, and we the congregants wearing our
best clothes not to impress our neighbors but to let God know we are grateful and
this is the best we can do. We know it’s not enough, Dad tells us, the huge Bible
open before him, but God will understand our good intentions.

Years later I develop questions such as if no human can understand the mind
of God—thank you, Job—or know His ways, how can a human assure us of such magnanimity on God’s part? To which Dad answers, faith, which has no reason,
ergo the question’s moot. But years-ago Easters I sat on the smooth oak
pew, staring at my best shoes, which always pinched, and pretending that
left foot and right foot were conversing or perhaps arguing until the organ’s
major chords and the words “All rise” brought me back to the community
of believers and Dad’s bass voice led us along the five-barred staffs, stacked verses,
and triumphant alleluias of “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today.” And I knew
I was not good enough but believed that I could be forgiven, and if Dad has
offered me anything I can rely on it has been forgiveness—so today, as the
woods begins to soften into green and the chickadee pronounces its name
incessantly from the beech—Dad, I’ve so much to be grateful for.

                          Amen.

CH Chucrch

Church of my childhood, First Presbyterian Church of Hamptonburgh, New York

Poetry Month & Simic’s prose

I have read and enjoyed a great deal of Charles Simic‘s poetry over the years. How did I miss his prose?

I just picked up The Life of Images (2015) and find myself delighted indeed. This book makes a wonderful read for National Poetry Month, despite its subtitle “Selected Prose,” because so many of the pieces in this collection are about poetry or act as prose poems–a form Simic is well-known for.

Every other paragraph or so I find myself wanting to write down a glorious sentence, or a quote I should share with my poetry students, or a concise description that fits perfectly, such as Simic’s observation about Buster Keaton‘s persona in his silent movies: “Bedeviled by endless obstacles, Buster is your average slow-thinking fellow, seeking a hidden logic in an illogical world.”

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Being of a philosophical bent myself, I was thrilled to read and then re-read “Notes on Poetry and Philosophy,” with its foundation of Heidegger and Simic’s sly and humorous references to Hegel, Schroedinger, Shakespeare, Dickinson, Whitman and others. That essay is really a series of prose poems that resemble philosophical puzzles and paradoxes.

His essays here often focus on visual art, as well. Movies, paintings, photographs. The image as metaphor.

“The poet is at the mercy of his metaphors. Everything is at the mercy of the poet’s metaphors, even Language, who is their Lord and master.” Ah, yes. One of many paradoxes surrounding the practice and theory of poetry:

“Everything would be simple if we could will our metaphors. We cannot…It took me years to admit that the poem is smarter than I am. Now I go where it wants me to go.”

“Metaphor is a part of the not-knowing aspect of art, and yet I’m firmly convinced that it is the supreme way of searching for truth.”

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The usual progression of spring unfurls and blossoms around me, a bounty of images, thank goodness, and Simic has me mulling over my metaphors again.

 

 

 

 

Bow, lyre, poetics

books~~

I’m reading a collection of essays by Octavio Paz (Mexican poet, 1914-1998), The Bow and the Lyre (published in Spanish in 1956 and translated from the 1967 2nd edition by Ruth Simms).

[I like this photo of him but have not yet tracked down the year and the photographer. I’ll try to do that soon for permissions reasons.]

Paz is so quotable. He’s full of marvelous little aphoristic-sounding phrases such as:

“Poetry reveals this world; it creates another. Bread of the chosen; accursed food. It isolates; it unites.” The first chapter of the book begins with these phrases and images, almost biblical in their parallel rhetorical structure and intentionally paradoxical.

“Obedience to rules; creation of others. Imitation of the ancients, copy of the real, copy of a copy of the Idea. Madness, ecstasy, logos.” Here, he moves to triads… “play, work, ascetic activity…vision, music, symbol.”

Then he moves on to style, metricity, historical antecedents, art. “The unrepeatable and unique nature of the poem is shared by other works: paintings, sculptures, sonatas, dances, monuments. To all can be applied the distinction between poem and utensil, style and creation…the diversity of the arts does not hinder but rather emphasizes their diversity.”

The first chapter is philosophical, a kind of poetics taking a vast history as context and individuality as scope. I might have quibbles with some of his assertions; I might find his metaphors and analogies a bit too facile. But I do find the writing juicy and thought-provoking.

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A fine essay, I must say, is Paz’s fourth chapter on verse and prose. I could read this text over a few times, I could use it to begin a second master’s thesis or to help me teach an advanced class on poetry. Marvelous work! I especially appreciate his insights into the necessity and diversity of rhythm as culturally/linguistically based. And, as a writer from the USA, I love his thinking about the Americas and Europe, our language precedents and influences, and how Paz interprets their differences. What a terrific, brief but clear, exploration into Eliot and Pound! Into Mallarmé an Baudelaire and Poe and the German Romantics, into Joyce and Neruda and Lorca, and the difference between Spanish-speaking poets of the Americas and those of Spain. What a creative inquiry into the development of free verse in three or four different cultures and eras!

I learned a good deal. More later, I suppose.