Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tying Up Clouds

First of all, I want to say how frustrating Tony Hoagland can be sometimes. You'll get halfway through his essay, believing his argument is going in one direction and he veers right off into another. It's fustrating because I don't know where he stands, may times he just makes an arguement with himself, representing both sides like a bit from The Colbert Report.

Formidable Opponent - Business Syphilis

I suppose though, in this case, it is an appropriate tactic. The examination of elliptical poems warrants this approach, because in a way, they do that. They shoot off in a number of directions, or at least, that is what it seems like they mean to do. I don't understand some of the reasoning for calling one method of creating poetry better or worse than another; usually when it's done well, when it's done right, the quality of the poem expresses itself beyond the fashion it may belong to. I love First Person Fabulous. There are points in they essay I question, and given the culmination of Hoagland's essay, "Fear of Narrative and the Skittery Poem of Our Moment", I'm not sure there is a clear answer except that there's room for everyone and remember to see the forest and examine the trees.

The poem that I found the most interesting was Cloud by Louis Aragon.

A white horse stands up
and that's the small hotel at dawn where he who is always
   first-come-first-served awakes in palatial comfort
Are you going to spend your entire life in the same world
Half dead
Half asleep
Haven't you had enough of commonplaces yet
People actually look a you without laughter
They have glass eyes
You pass them by you wast your time you pass away and
   go away
You count up to a hundred during which you cheat to kill an 
   extra ten seconds
You hold up your hand suddenly to volunteer for death
Fear not
Some day
There will be just one day left and then one more after that
Then that will be that
No more need to look at men nor their companion animals
   their Good Lord provides
And that they make love to now and then
No more need to go on speaking to yourself out loud at night
   in order to drown out
The heating-units lament
No need to lift my own eyelids
Nor to fling my blood around like some discus
Nor to breathe despite my disinclination to
Yet despite this I don't want to die
In low tones the bell of my heart sings out its ancient hope
That music I know it so well but the words
Just what were those words saying

It was one of the poems that Hoagland points to as an example of elliptical, which I don't dispute. It's beautiful and sad. What I challenge is that there is no narrative here. I would argue that the narrative is psychological, yes, but also literal. It's a musing, a contemplation on life, the potential pain and isolation one can experience, and like the modernists, a study of  the dismal, apathetic attitude of nature and or god. It's existential. What I think elliptical or angular poems bring to the table is that they are able to reveal some greater insight or truth of something, by showing us the "root system" of life. You don't see the tree in these poems, it's implied though, and you see more than that, you see how the tree is connected to a buried 50 year old aluminum bottle cap which it's roots have grown around, underground where no one else has looked. I also want to say something about the 'removal' of the reader. Is a poem effective if it doesn't make a connection?  Poems are meant, not to rot in books but to be shared and read and read aloud and live and be vibrant; if you intentionally remove the reader, I think that is detrimental to the work, no one likes a poem they have to write a thesis about first to understand and make connection. It's as silly as trying to tie up clouds.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Hot Hot Thought

The poems that appealed the most to me this week were Denis Johnson's Heat and Susan Mitchell's Rapture. They are both excellent poems and I wouldn't mind having my voice and style as a poet be influenced by either. I feel that they have something that I'm still trying to capture in my own work. I'm trying to find a balance between beautiful allusive language and the accessibility and immediacy I want present in my work. I find that adding the imagery and complexity that I find interesting in poems can be distancing.  It has a "cooling" effect, which is counterproductive for me sometimes because what I want to call upon with that image or this reference is the passion and intensity associated with it. It's lost somehow, between how I think of it and how I manage to present it in the work.

By the same token, I don't want to write things that are trite or banal or overly sentimental. I find that difficult, because the things we all like to talk about and write about and read about have been exhausted. It's hard to find something new to say,  and once you do find something, make sure that doesn't sound like it came from a high school diary. Hoagland's advice in his essay "On Disproportion"  in Real Sofistikashun is a little confusing. It just seems to go on about the value of letting the heart off the leash so to speak, but not really a practical way to keep them in balance. The poets examined already have a grasp on these forces to a certain extent and can play with them. I don't know how to do that yet consistently - I usually just end up sounding vague. Ah well.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Chants, Blues and Incantations

I'm torn on this one. I found a lot to like in this round of poets, but the two I found most interesting stylistically were Sandra McPherson and William Dickey. It's interesting also that they seem farther apart from each other on the spectrum than some of the other poets on the playlist. Dickey has the incantation style. His repetitions are in the diction and in the rhythm of the lines and they are short stanzas. The tone of his work is that of a spell being cast and he plays with repetition on multiple levels. Repetition of phrases, single words, rhythms coupled with the tight short stanzas pulls the reader into the piece and ejects them just as quickly. Your eyes blink - it's a spell.

McPherson on the other hand has the blues song style in her poem. The repetition is on multiple levels here as well, but they are simpler, and the rhythms are clearly founded in the blues music genre. What I like is the application of it to people and a situation it is not usually applied to - white, mid-class woman and her child's shop-lifting incident. The traditions of blues tint this poem and depth to it; it is a way to add emotion and meaning other than in the traditional, more visible methods we have in poetry (diction, rhetoric, image). Both poets imbue their pieces with emotion and energy with these styles of rhythm and repetition, I can't pick one, so I pick both.The traditions of blues tint this poem and depth to it; it is a way to add emotion and meaning other than in the traditional, more visible methods we have in poetry (diction, rhetoric, image). Both poets imbue their pieces with emotion and energy with these styles of rhythm and repetition, I can't pick one, so I pick both.

And now for my attempt at a "blues" style poem...

 In the ground there are things left behind.
All along the ground there are things we leave behind.
They creak and lean, the wind passes them by.
They creak and lean, all those things the wind passes by.
 Well they hold on to our memory.
Ghost stories haunt our small forgotten graves.