In my recent microreview & interview of Tina Cane’s Once More With Feeling (Veliz Books), I focused on the idea of place and its dual nature in the book as noun and action. I found this particular lens to the collection engaging on several levels. In a poem, place is often both what we write about and what we create in writing. This duality parallels several ideas on the interaction between content and form discussed by poets from Charles Baudelaire to Denise Levertov. There are moments in Cane’s collection when content and form interact and create a tension that feels like a living pulse.
In this week’s poem, Cane takes the conceit and form of a telegram and subverts it to create a moving statement on mortality. The repetition of the word “STOP” — a direct allusion to the telegram form which would use this word to signal the end of a phrase or sentence — is expected given the title of the piece. Once the narrative of the poem begins to build, however, the word begins to carry with it an added sense of urgency. The practice of using “STOP” in telegrams increased during WWI in an effort towards clarity. In the context of a poem, this effort becomes less about clarity of a message and more of clarity of feeling.
Telegram to My Father – Tina Cane
YOU LOOK LIKE A GOYA STOP IN THE WATERY LIGHT STOP
CHEEKBONES SHARP SKIN THIN LIKE ONION PAPER STOP
BREATHING STOP SHALLOW STOP YOUR FINGERS FRAGILE DRUMMING
ON THE BEDSHEET STOP YOU ARE MOVING YOUR LIPS STOP TRYING
TO RIDE THE TIDE OF MORPHINE DRIP STOP UNCLE MARTY IS ON THE PHONE
MANIC IN STATEN ISLAND STOP PLEADING “YOU DECIDE YOU DECIDE”
JUST BELOW A SHOUT STOP THE FLUIDS I SAY STOP “WHY NOT ME?”
YOU ONCE QUIPPED “STOP” I SAID “WHY?” YOU SAID END
Aware – Denise Levertov
When I found the door
I found the vine leaves
speaking among themselves in abundant
My presence made them
hush their green breath,
embarrassed, the way
humans stand up, buttoning their jackets,
acting as if they were leaving anyway, as if
the conversation had ended
just before you arrived.
the glimpse I had, though,
of their obscure
gestures. I liked the sound
of such private voices. Next time
I’ll move like cautious sunlight, open
the door by fractions, eavesdrop
This week’s poem is by Denise Levertov, someone whose work I feel inspires the same kind of “cautious sunlight” approach to life and writing as is described above. Throughout the years, I’ve come back to her poems to learn again how to more inhabit my lines and line breaks. Note above the “abundance” of the third line, and how it scraps down to the one word “whispers.”
I have a friend who says that if you’re going to have one word stand alone on a line it better be the most important word in the poem. For me, “whispers” is a strong candidate for most important word, specifically because of what it means after I’ve read the poem and look at the words again. Structurally, my eye is drawn back to “whispers” and its two-syllable one line buddy “I liked.” The brevity of these two lines, how they are tucked into themselves much like the vine leaves of the poem, moves me to contemplate the whole poem further.
As I mentioned earlier this week, the release date for my upcoming collection, Everything We Think We Hear, is officially December 1st. I’ve got a couple of things in mind to share as we get closer to the date. Mas soon!
I’m also happy to announce that my chapbook The Divorce Suite will be published by Red Bird Chapbooks in 2016. More news on this project as it develops!
Overland to the Islands – Denise Levertov
Let’s go — much as that dog goes,
intently haphazard. The
Mexican light on a day that
“smells like autumn in Connecticut”
makes iris ripples on his
black gleaming fur — and that too
is as one would desire — a radiance
consorting with the dance.
Under his feet
rock and mud, his imagination, sniffing,
engaged in its perceptions — dancing
edgeways, there’s nothing
the dog disdains on his way,
keeps moving, changing
pace and approach but
not direction — “every step an arrival.”
Our professor snuck in this poem at the tail end of Levertov’s essay “Some Notes on Organic Form” – a good read for you poets if you have the time.
Much of what moves me here in this particular poem – the juxtaposition of senses and sensibility, how the poem insists on perception after perception, leads from word to word in an engaging manner – is discussed in that essay in terms of meditation and breath.
I have been much involved in another kind of meditation and breath, one that centers me after teaching. Here’s a quote that has followed me into my inner space the past two days:
All the world is a dream, not because it isn’t there, but because we each attach different meanings to it.
— Ming-Dao Deng, 365 Tao
There’s something about poetry – writing and reading it – that develops your ability to deal with the ephemeral, the fleeting, your ability to deal with almost’s.
You can work on a poem for years and still only almost say it. Or you can read The Wasteland a few times and still only almost get it. Yet, if it’s good, that almost is worth it.
It’s akin to pointing out fireflies: those little buggers will spark for a second in the grass – but by the time you elbow the person next to you to point them out, the light’s gone and you are left looking out into dark grass until another one lights up.
That glimpse of light – and how it passes onto another – is what I believe the poem below by Denise Levertov to be about. There is what you see and what you would like others to see – both in writing and in life.
The Secret – Denise Levertov
Two girls discover
the secret of life
in a sudden line of
I who don’t know the
the line. They
(through a third person)
they had found it
but not what it was
what line it was. No doubt
by now, more than a week
later, they have forgotten
the line, the name of
the poem. I love them
for finding what
I can’t find,
and for loving me
for the line I wrote,
and for forgetting it
a thousand times, til death
finds them, they may
discover it again, in other
happenings. And for
wanting to know it,
assuming there is
such a secret, yes,
most of all.
Evening on the Farm – Bert Meyers
Time for a jacket now,
and to put my hands away.
I must learn from the stars
how a field should look.
But one by one, bright children,
the stars rush downstairs
to meet my horses and hay
with an astonished eye.
Tomorrow is Poem in Your Pocket Day and I have taken it upon myself to pass out poems to my co-workers. I have selected who gets what in terms of their respective astrological signs (told you I was a geek). Seeing as I don’t work with any Pisces, and I simply marvel at the poem, I am choosing the above as my selection.
The late Bert Meyers was a master of images. His collected poems, In a Dybbuk’s Raincoat, is essential for anyone who enjoys not only great images but solid lyric poetry. As Denise Levertov points out in her introduction:
“It is a mark of the most profound poetic instinct to comprehend, in the act of making poems, the degrees of analogy: and so to avoid muffling the perception of coalescence, which demands metaphor, with the word ‘like’; or, on the other hand, failing to note resemblance with the appropriate figure of speech, simile…Meyers’ intuition in this…seems to have been faultless.”
You see this mastery in the lines above: how easily “bright children” is followed by “stars” tumbling downstairs, all of it leading up to that “astonished eye” at the end, the words evoking an image through sheer magnetism it seems.
In other news, the open mic was a bust. Nuff said.
I have, instead, taken to reading aloud the Rimbaud I’m in the middle of. It’s colorful, to say the least. We’ll see if it helps. Here are some choice lines of his that took me back to dark times in Texas:
I made up rhymes in dark and scary places,
And like a lyre I plucked the tired laces
Of my worn-out shoes, one foot beneath my heart. (from “Wandering”)
What will be in your pocket?