suddenness via leah poole osowski

osowskiThis week I’m sharing a poem from Leah Poole Osowski’s collection Hover Over Her which I recently discussed in a microreview & interview for the CR blog.

In my review, I discussed the collection in terms of “the poetics of suddenness.” This week’s poem, “Glow Sticks,” embodies what I mean by this phrase in its use of direct commands to indirectly handle a narrative charged with urgency. One of the ways in which this move comes together is the mix of long and short sentences.

The shift in energy, for example, between the sentence: “Crack them like taking a frozen lake in your hand, / as a branch, and applying light pressure”  which occurs over two lines, to the sentence after it, “Enter the dark” is compelling for a number of reasons. For one, it is the move from the comfort of detailed instruction and linguistic duration of the longer sentence to the “dark” of the shorter sentence that is abstract and concise. Also, the switch in diction and length creates a momentum in the speaker’s voice that evokes the suddenness that the addressee is being guided through.

This momentum is builds throughout the poem, culminating in the image of “flashlight beams / spelling your name into space.” I’m moved in these final lines by both the closing side of the indirect narrative of the poem as well as what the image implies beyond the poem. To have a name spelled out in light into space speaks to the fleeting nature of life. One can see a parallel in this image of John Keats’ epitaph, which reads: “Here lies One whose Name was writ in Water.” Osowski’s collection is full of moments like this one, whose freshness and vividness is articulated through a living pulse.

*

Glow Sticks – Leah Poole Osowski

Phenol and chemistry that excites a dye.
Crack them like taking a frozen lake in your hand,
as a branch, and applying light pressure.
Enter the dark. Teach a girl who’s never seen light
held in a tube to throw them toward the ceiling —
see the night split open like fault lines.
Show her to trim her wrist and dance like prisms
in a thunderstorm. Tell her how to keep
them into tomorrow, with tinfoil in the freezer,
and watch her worry. You understand this fear
of losing the light. How many summers did you
break them open over the sands of Cape Cod bay,
shake the chemicals onto the ground to bring
the constellations to your feet? You still taste
the hydrogen peroxide when you kiss strangers.
Still mourn the slow deaths of jarred fireflies,
of sand-covered beach fires, of flashlight beams
spelling your name into space.

*

Happy glowing!

José

* throwing things on the floor with Jim Harrison & John Keats

In reading Jim Harrison’s novel The English Major last month, I came across the following and it brought tears – I have been much for tears these days – and mainly because I have been slowly going over poems I have memorized, seeing what stuck and what fell off, and was suddenly surprised to recognize the poem referenced below:

I was saddened by the idea that I might not finish the work before I died, a natural enough fear.  Keats wrote, “When I have fears that I may cease to be before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain…”  That was throwing the raw meat on the floor in a lovely way.

That phrasing throwing the raw meat on the floor – that’s it isn’t it – what it is a poet does no matter the how we use to do it.  We are not in the business of poetry if the raw meat isn’t on the floor.

Realizing I had let the poem slip after a few years, and then coming back to it, memorizing it again – more than an old friend, I felt like a piece of myself was returning, that something understood once was being reconciled in a big, new way.

There’s a lot of history in the poem too: Yeats borrowed the phrasing of high romance, and John Berryman references the end of the poem in the title of his book Love and Fame.  I myself am tempted to borrow and manipulate the phrasing for something called: The Fool-ripened Grain.

Here is the poem below – you can see for yourself how awful and sacrilegious my idea is.

* you let the meat fall where? *
* you let the meat fall where? *

When I have fears that I may cease to be – John Keats

When I have fears that I may cease to  be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books in charactery
Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;

When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows with the magic hand of chance;

And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love – then on the shore

Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Til love and fame to nothingness do sink.

***

Happy sinking!

Jose

* the 100th post

Bright star – would I were steadfast as thou art —
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores…

(John Keats, Bright Star)

With those six lines there, poetry had me.

I read those as a kid and was floored.  I mean, first there’s the language: what’s an Eremite?  Steadfa- que?  But you go down into the words waters, priestlike task, ablution, shores and they take you into the ocean with their sounds.  I was hooked.  I didn’t know what I was looking at but I wanted to be around it, be part of it.

Of course, I didn’t realize this til much later, when I returned to Keats in an official I AM NOW GOING TO READ POETRY adolescent way.  Coming across this poem again, I went back to that silence of being a kid with something – can’t name it, don’t know what it is – but something there in these words is soooo cooool.

Eloquent I am not.

That said, I wanted to do a more personal post for this, the 100th post.

And what’s more personal than stars:

* insert crickets sound here *
* insert crickets sound here *

Sure, they’re all the way up there and on a completely different timeframe than us.  Yet, when you look up – or rather, when you let yourself look up and really look up – there’s something…I don’t know, nice about it.

Again, eloquence.

Here’s me trying to say it better:

To a star in Texas – Jose Angel Araguz

Little light weaving through, I cannot
make out much tonight, and I know this here
means nothing to you, so

skin, tell my stories; heart, fill the sky.

**

I don’t know exactly what that last line means but I’ve been kinda living by it ever since I wrote it years ago.  Something about how just being here is enough.

Stars.  The word, plural or singular, is so riddled with cliche, you could be talking about nothing.  And in a way you are.

Stars are, for me, things of persistence, pseudo-Venn diagrams of presence and absence.  They are one of the few things that people will – nearly universally – stop and let me themselves be awed by.

How do I know this?  Through reading poems.

Here’s Rilke’s take on it:

Lament – Rainer Maria Rilke

Everything is far
and long gone by.
I think that the star
glittering above me
has been dead for a million years.
I think there were tears
in the car I heard pass
and something terrible was said.
A clock has stopped striking in the house
across the road…
When did it start?…
I would like to step out of my heart
and go walking beneath the enormous sky.
I would like to pray.
And surely of all the stars that perished
long ago,
one still exists.
I think that I know
which one it is —
which one, at the end of its beam in the sky,
stands like a white city…

(trans. Stephen Mitchell)

**

Happy standing!

Jose

* Keats’ On the Grasshopper and Cricket: a reenactment

Image
Sir Sprinkle Belly in the role of The Grasshopper!

This week on the Influence: (a) play!

It’s winter time and I realize that I haven’t posted up a winter poem.  One of my favorites is John Keats’ “On the Grasshopper and Cricket”.

It is a deceptively playful yet serious sonnet.  Statements on “the poetry of earth” occur twice, breaking up the poem’s argument which consists of a parallel between the lives and seasons of the grasshopper and cricket.  The grasshopper is playful in summertime; the cricket’s song survives with us in the wintertime.

The rhymes are musical and yet there is an undertone of mortality despite the harmony.  The first line hits with two charged words “never dead” and then bounces along with the grasshopper.  This charged feeling is repeated with the words “ceasing never”.  Life – earthly life – is emphatic.

This parallel would be enough except (and as a good sonnet should) there is a turn – only here it occurs at the end.  The cricket’s song suddenly brings forth the memory of the grasshopper.  It is a visceral evocation worthy of Mr. Negative Capability.  Suddenly – like some poetical Venn Diagram of genius – the poem ends with summertime in wintertime.

Keats is the man.

Here is the proof:

On the Grasshopper and Cricket – John Keats
The Poetry of earth is never dead:    
  When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,    
  And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run    
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead;    
That is the Grasshopper’s—he takes the lead      
  In summer luxury,—he has never done    
  With his delights; for when tired out with fun    
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.    
The poetry of earth is ceasing never:    
  On a lone winter evening, when the frost     
    Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills    
The Cricket’s song, in warmth increasing ever,    
  And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,    
    The Grasshopper’s among some grassy hills.
***

...and Lord Sprinkle Foot as Cricket!
…and Lord Sprinkle Foot as Cricket!

It ain’t easy being Sprinkle Foot.

Cookies are courtesy of my lady’s family household.  I totally decorated cookies this week.

Like a boss.

See ya next year (ha!),

jose

p.s. Keats wrote the above sonnet in a contest with his mentor Leigh Hunt.  With this, the mentee became the mentor … ‘s buddy? – the matinee became the mentorasaurus…rex…the –

* cinquain tributes

Image
Don Juan, himself.

Byron

Believed

You could make a

River from a writhing,

Overturned woman, her husband

Nearby.

***

Every once in a while I write something I call a cinquain tribute, a cinquain in which the last name of a poet is snuck in via acrostic – the first letter of each line.  I enjoy these because the nature of a cinquain – in its brevity and tanka-like feeling – lends itself well to paying personal tribute to the greats.

Here, we have Lord Byron and Keats.  They didn’t necessarily like each other.

Byron was a wealthy man of the world with a killer wit.  His famous epic “Don Juan” has the main character insisting that his name is pronounced “Ju-an” like “ruin”.

Keats, on the other hand, was a poor kid who studied to be a doctor while at the same time becoming one of the greatest poets in the English language.  He also knew how to box.

Lord Byron looked down on young Keats, as did most of the world, the latter’s genius not being fully acknowledged until his passing.  Bryon, however, was a literary celebrity in his own time.

Also: there may have been a time where I referred to myself as The Young Keats of the Streets.  I turn thirty this weekend, so no more of that.

Image
Towards the end, age 25.

Keats

Knowing

Even then that

A man was only a

Tome of possibility he

Still sang.

 

Happy singing!

J

* translation 3/3 on the friday influence

(from Proverbios y Cantares – Antonio Machado) *

XXXII.

Oh faith of meditation!

Oh faith after deep thought!

When a heart returns to earth,

the human cup overflows, and the sea swells.

***

This week, The Friday Influence presents the work of the great Spanish poet Antonio Machado.

I first ran across the above poem during my first trip to Powell’s in Portland two years ago.  I spied Machado’s Poesias Completas on the shelf and immediately flipped through to these lines.

I was moved by the tension between the mind and the senses implied in these lines.  I mean, that’s what it’s like to be overwhelmed, to be interrupted and taken from thought to body.  The sea swells!  I fell in love and took the book home with me.

I see in these lines the days when I am so focused on the page that to be taken away or distracted hurts – mainly it makes me fussy.  Phil Levine once said: when a poem comes, the phone can wait, the knock at the door can wait, it all can wait.  Ignore it.  I respect the necessity for that kind of attention.  I figure: it’s my poetry – if I don’t make time for it and give it the attention it deserves, who will?

I believe this is a shade of what Keats meant when he spoke of the poet as being “the most unpoetical of any thing in existence.”

***

I have enjoyed this three part stint of translating.  I guess four, if you count my riffing around with Goethe.

For this week’s post, I collaborated with Andrea Schreiber, a self-styled polyglot and linguist with a true love of language.  She is also my girlfriend.  Meaning, she puts up with me when I get fussy.  And she has seen Machado’s Spain, the roads he saw, the sea…  She helped steer my translations towards the spirit of the poems.  I thank her.

Here are a few more from Machado:

XXI.

Last night I dreamed that I saw

God and that I spoke with God;

and dreamed that God listened…

later I dreamed I had dreamed.

XXVIII.

Everyone has two

battles to fight:

in dreams, you wrestle with God;

awake, with the sea.

XLI.

It is common knowledge that cups

are used for drinking;

Sadly, it is unknown

what use we have for thirst.

XLIV.

Everything moves on, and everything stays;

it is our lot to move on,

move on making roads,

roads over the sea.

XLV.

To die…and fall like a drop

of ocean back to the ocean?

Or, be what I never could be:

a man, without shadow, without dreams,

a man that goes forward

without roads, without mirrors?

***

Happy forwarding!

J

* all poems translated by Jose Angel Araguz and Andrea Schreiber.  (word to your late night conversations!)