noting with marilyn hacker

One of the things to note about this week’s poem, “A Note Downriver” by Marilyn Hacker, is its use of Sapphic stanzas to evoke longing via nuanced meditations. A Sapphic stanza, named after the Greek love poet Sappho, consists of three lines of eleven syllables each (with stresses on the first, fifth, and tenth syllables) and a truncated fourth line of five syllables (stresses here on the first and fourth).

Through_the_wilds;_a_record_of_sport_and_adventure_in_the_forests_of_New_Hampshire_and_Maine_(1892)_(14586696278)In light of the complexity of this stanzaic structure, I can’t help but marvel at Hacker’s use of it here in a poem essentially about a hangover. The stress on the first syllable of each line adds a troubled conviction to the speaker’s voice; their ruminations come off in a controlled yet shaky manner. This shakiness is augmented by the form, leading to such lyrical utterances as: “I feel muggy-headed and convalescent, / barely push a pen across blue-lined paper.”

The leap in phrasing and logic here evoke a struggle beyond language. At the precipice of articulation, articulation feels hindered; “push” is echoed by the nearby “scowl” and the later “grouse” and “growl.” This reading of echoes is furthered by the ending metaphor of rivers speaking, literally having the last, troubled word.

A Note Downriver – Marilyn Hacker 

Afternoon of hangover Sunday morning
earned by drinking wine on an empty stomach
after I met Tom for a bomb on Broadway:
done worse; known better.

I feel muggy-headed and convalescent,
barely push a pen across blue-lined paper,
scowl at envelopes with another country’s
stamps, and your letter.

Hilltop house, a river to take you somewhere,
sandwiches at noon with a good companion:
summer’s ghost flicked ash from the front porch railing,
looked up, and listened.

I would grouse and growl at you if you called me.
I have made you chamomile tea and rye bread
toast, fixed us both orange juice laced with seltzer
similar mornings.

We’ll most likely live in each other’s houses
like I haunted yours last July, as long as
we hear rivers vacillate downstream. They say
“always”; say “never.”

from Winter Numbers: poems (W.W. Norton)

* rivers

In Eugene, Oregon this week – which means good food, good talk, and walks by the Willamette River.

A friend this week asked me if Ohio had made its way into my writing since moving there a year ago. Not having thought on this subject before, I was surprised at my response, mainly that moving around so much places me back into myself, back into the places I have known.

The Ohio, the Willamette, the Rio Grande, the Susquehanna – the waters I have known are all connected, in the words I write and in the, uhm, science-y geographical way too.

The poem below, from The Penguin Book of Chinese Verse, shares some of this feeling. I am moved by the image of a man sleeping on the current, trusting to wake up in the same world, if only a little different.

* current affairs *
* current affairs *

At the riverside village – Ssu-kung Shu

My fishing done, I have returned, but do not moor my boat;
At the riverside village the moon will set just as I go to sleep.
Even if during the night the wind wafts me away,
I shall only reach the shallows where the rushes bloom.

***

Happy blooming!

Jose

* rivers, Jim Harrison & you

In a life properly lived, you’re a river. You touch things lightly or deeply; you move along because life herself moves, and you can’t stop it; you can’t figure out a banal game plan applicable to all situations; you just have to go with the “beingness” of life, as Rilke would have it.

Jim Harrison

*ain't life Rio Grande*
*ain’t life Rio Grande*

Jim Harrison is one of my gurus.  His work opens me up every time I return to it.  There is a directness to his writing, a feeling of having whittled one’s self down to the essential.  Being a poet of rivers myself, his words above are kindred.

He may also be the closest we have to that other great poet of rivers, Li Po, who, legend has it, died embracing the moon – at least the reflection of it he saw one night on the face of a river.

In the following poem, from his book Saving Daylight, Jim takes us a littler further down the river, to where we may have been all along.

Water – Jim Harrison

Before I was born I was water.
I thought of this sitting on a blue
chair surrounded by pink, red, white
hollyhocks in the yard in front
of my green studio.  There are conclusions
to be drawn but I can’t do it anymore.
Born man, child man, singing  man,
dancing man, loving man, old man,
dying man.  This is a round river
and we are her fish who become water.

***

Happy watering!

Jose