Monday, May 30, 2005

Poem of the Week 5/30/2005: Homesickness


The lion stretched like a sandstone lion on a sandstone slab
of a bridge with one fixture, a gaslight,
looks up from his nicotine-worried forepaw
with the very same air my father, Patrick,
had when the results came back from the lab, that air of anguish-awe
that comes with the realization of just how slight
the chances are of anything doing the trick

as the sun goes down over Ballyknick and Ballymacnab
and a black-winged angel takes flight.

The black-winged angel leaning over the sandstone parapet
of the bridge wears a business suit, dark gray. His hair is slick with pomade.
He turns away as my mother, Brigid,
turned away from not only her sandstone pet
but any concession being made.
The black-winged angel sets her face to the unbending last ray
of evening and meets rigid with rigid

as the sun goes down over Lisnagat and Listamlet
and Clonmore and Clintyclay.

Feckless as he was feckless, as likely as her to be in a foofaraw,
I have it in me to absolutely rant and rail while, for fear of the backlash,
absolutely renounce
the idea of holding anything that might be construed as an opinion.
The lion still looks back to his raw
knuckle and sighs for the possibility that an ounce
of Walnut Plug might shape up from the ash
The angel still threatens to abandon us with a single flick of her pinion

as the sun goes down over Lislasly and Lissaraw
and Derrytrasna and Derrymacash.

Paul Muldoon 2002

Good Evening friends and family! Before I go into this Poem of the Week, I again have something extra to say. Three things, actually. The first is an appreciation; thanks to Steve Fisher for alerting me to see Paul Muldoon talk at the University of Denver, for taking me to see him, and for the book! The second is the story about seeing Muldoon. He was a funny, jolly sort of man: completely friendly (when some people walked in late, he just invited them up to the front and he offered one lady water when she coughed). Afterwards, he signed books for us and I got to ask him a question! I will go into the details when it is relevant in the poem. Finally, I have to say that I am tired and that this poem of the week may be less complete than those of late. I am just going to include things that I noticed and then I am crashing into my bed. So there you go. Happy Memorial Day!

This poem is, to me, quite confusing. The angel changes genders, there are many ambiguous geographical references (though they are probably all places around Muldoon's birthplace in Ireland), we have no idea what Muldoon's mother doesn't concede to, and the last stanza is a hodge podge of old images and lost antecedents. So, I thought that I would start with a little extra information. Adam Newey writes in the New Statesman that Muldoon's poems have no core. They stack images "like a heap of discarded road signs all pointing in different directions." Another difficulty, he notes, is that we are never sure where Muldoon sits within his work; there are overt autobiographical components that end up expanding into something wild or fantastic. This poem is a solid example of this. The parents are certainly Muldoon's parents, and yet their story deals with angels, lions, and ambiguous actions and beliefs. After all, the phrase "feckless as he was feckless" does not help in the least. It reminds me of T.S. Eliot's notes which tend to confuse the reader more rather than elucidating the text. But anyway - the point is that Muldoon tends to blend poet and speaker.

Somewhat luckily, this is nearly precisely the question I asked Muldoon. When talking about a poem in Moy Sand and Gravel, his latest book, he expounded upon the personal experience that helped shape one of the poems he was reading but used "the speaker" once or twice in discussing the text itself. Like "Homesickness," this poem uses his family members' names and has *very* specific biographical notes. So I asked him why he still called him "the speaker" when he seemed to be Muldoon. He answered that the poem is just a representation of a person; it is never quite the whole speaker. Actually, he said something very interesting about it simply being a pastiche of the person he was at that specific time, that moment, and (implicitly) since this has changed, he can no longer claim to be the speaker. So, for this poem, while Muldoon's life may have informed the poem, it by no means holds the key.

Alright: some informal, general thoughts I have about the poem (I do apologise for being so tired - I hope that you will all excuse me. I don't like leaving the poem tangled up. You see, part of what me simply leaving notes here means is that I haven't spent enough time with the poem yet and am too exhausted to do it. And Muldoon is not very accessible. So these are, as Louis Althusser might write, simply "notes towards an investigation.") Notice how Muldoon immediately throws us off in the first line, writing that "the lion sits like a sandstone lion." This is a real lion that is simply acting like a stone one. As for its purpose, I think that the lion is a reflection of the father. This is somewhat blatant, seen in their shared anguish-awe at realizing that nothing is going to really work. Work to do what? For the lion we know - he wants the ash to reform into the tobacco from whence it came. This may illuminate what the father wishes; just as the lion wants the ash to heal into tobacco, the father perhaps wants his body to heal.

The ambiguity that Muldoon leaves concerning Patrick is characteristic of the poem, however. To begin, there are a number of things that the black-winged angel could be. Death? Guardian-angel? Something completely and totally different? So, the fact that the angel changes gender from the second to the third (and possibly even within the second - who is the antecedent for "her"?) stanza is actually consistent with the confusion that runs amok throughout "Homesickness." Why is the title "Homesickness" at all? Is this the father's disease? Why Muldoon wrote it? Perhaps the title explains all of the Irish towns' references in the couplets. Hmm - because night keeps falling over Ireland, the poem's action happens as Muldoon's home memories are fading away. He is homesick, and feels the anguish-awe about the fact that nothing is quite going to heal that. This may be what he is showing in the poem. After all, there is certainly a measure of loss. His father is dying and his mother turned away, stubborn and rigid. The speaker (a version of Muldoon) shows that he opposes this blind insistence, saying that he will "rant and rail" without ever harboring and opinion. He is completely flexible.

But this thought about homesickness doesn't help with the last stanza; the lion's piece is clear, but why would the angel leave? How does the final stanza's first sentence make sense at all? Actually, does it seem at all cohesive? That sentence and the angel still lie knotted beneath the poem for me. Ah well. Just as a magician doesn't alwaysd telll his secrets, I can occasionally leave some statements as mere questions, I guess. If any of you have ideas, let me know! I would love to discuss it with you (in email, voice, or person), and this concludes my notes towards an investigation! Good night!


Monday, May 23, 2005

Poem of the Week 5/23/2005: Burden


I called you because I could not stand alone
looking north to that skyline-
tree globed with its yellow apples
balancing like a fountain of planets
in the bright light and the blue air.

And because on the way there
I looked at a smooth cirque
the brook had worn in a stone;
and nothing as soft as water
could, by taking care,
have so pestled and polished
that granite mortar; only
by a thousand years of indifference,
of aiming elsewhere.

I wish we might do -- or no,
look back and find we had done --
some un-advertized thing,
overwhelming and un-self-aware
as water streamlining a stone, or a tree's
kindling in an empty meadow
its casual Hesperides.

Peter Kane Dufault 1978

Good evening! Before I go into this poem, I wanted to tell you all something I found when I was doing a little extra research on Dufault. Brad Leithauser writes that he is "a "little-known poet"-even if nowadays that's something of a redundancy, like "commercial athletics" or "formulaic top 40." He's someone who doesn't appear in most anthologies, and whose name is likely to raise a fuzzy look of semirecognition when dropped among contemporary poets" (the New York Review of Books). I like this comment because it brings to light something we talked about in my Brit Lit class one day - that poetry has essentially dropped off of the cultural radar. My *professor* could barely tell us who the current US Poet Laureate was (to be fair, we had just switched laureates), so how many average citizens are going to know much about any kind of American poetry? Besides, oh, the Beats or Billy Collins or Dickinson or Yeats or Plath, how many poets could most people actually name? Poe would be in the list, and Shakespeare of course, but really. If there is a poem of the week that you particularly like, I would encourage you all to take another five or ten minutes and look up the author - I choose lesser-known poets fairly frequently because I generally like later 20th Century poetry the best. Granted, they are still anthologized, as I get most of the PotWs out of my beautiful Norton Anthology of Poetry, but they are by no means popular. So that's my little rant, and on to the poem!

I chose it for its imagery, first and foremost. The entire first stanza is literally breathtaking; the mythic and fantastic quality of the image of a "tree globed with its yellow apples ... like a fountain of planets / in the bright light and the blue air" gives an immediate sense of both deepness and nobility. This stanza is also refreshingly clear. Dufault uses direct, simple words like "north," "yellow," "bright," and "blue" rather than more esoteric words. The stanza would be less piercing were he to substitute yellow with ochre, blue with azure, or bright with effulgent. It might still be beautiful, but it would sit less like a Techinicolor fantasy and more like a crinkled, faded, sepia-postcard. That crispness lies directly in line with the poem's simple structure; Dufault arranges it around one action (I called you). And the speaker is straightforward enough to explain *why* he called, though that explanation is not so simple.

This anwer has something to do with man and nature, time and myth, and free will. The speaker finds truths in nature, both of which compel him to call the "you". (*note: I know there is no way of knowing what gender the speaker is, but in my mind the speaker, if left unknown, takes the same gender as the author. I do not presume to say it is always a man or always a woman. It is the poet's sex, for me. Feel free to think of it any other way, and I am sure that this in some way limits me. I don't think that it's important for this poem, though, or I would address it, at least in passing). Thinking about who the "you" is becomes interesting, though, because it could be a parent, lover, friend, child, or reader. If the you is actually you reading the poem (and this response) right now, then it brings up the question of poetry's function. Maybe the "I" is Dufault himself, and the natural metaphors explain why he writes poetry. As Harriet the spy writes, think about that.

At any rate, the first reason he calls is that he cannot bear to be alone. That is simple enough, but why? What about this tree means that he cannot be alone? The key here may lie in the title: this clear vision, this mythic garden is a burden. We can read this myth at least three ways. The tree of youth (that is the tree with golden apples in the garden Hesperides, a mythic Greek garden) is perhaps too heavy to bear alone. Societal ideals of everlasting youth and beauty would be the culprits here. Or maybe our past, represented by the Classical era, is too much to deal with. The myth possibly alludes to every person's inavoidable trials, too, pointing to the possibility that he wants someone else because we need another to go on, day after day.

But this may not be the real reason that he called. It is certainly part of it, yes, but the second reason inhabits 16 lines to the first explanation's 5. Dufault presents this reason beautifully as well; the diction has a nice bit of self-similarity across scale in that it is as soft as the water it describes. "Pestled," "polished," "thousand," and "elsewhere" purr their way onto the page, seducing us as readily as the first stanza did. (Perhaps Dufault wanted to make these separate images so striking and gorgeous to convey their power over him, or their significance. Or not - another thing worth thinking about). The speaker notices that the water inadvertently creates something whole and wonderfully circular (this process is actually called potholing, in case you were wondering). Stanza two's final lines reminded me of that awful cliche "life is what happens when you're making other plans." Unfortunately, that may be the simplest way of conveying what the speaker noticed.

His version is mercifully more complex than the cliche, though. It questions free will, acknowledging that our actions, no matter how thoughtfully directed, may actually work towards a larger, unseen result. This just reminded me of when somebody told me that, if a pool ball were earth-sized, it would have higher mountains and deeper trenches than either Everest or the Marianas Trench. If you are miniature and on that ball, you have no idea how smooth it feels in the palm of your hand when you are so much bigger than it. The minute obscures the ball's larger design. It is ultimately significant, then, that the speaker corrects himself in line 15, saying "I wish we might do -- or no, / look back and find we had done." He wants to make the mistakes and (to continue my metaphor, helpful or no) have interesting geography rather than knowing immeadately that the earth is round. Everyday life matters, our choices matter, but perhaps more important is the wisdom that accompanies the ability to step away from those things and see the greater shape. Our incidental truths are perhaps the most important and organic ones, an idea with Dufault captures in "Burden."

Ahh you can tell I am getting tired by that last line's stunning middle-school wrap it all up feeling, so I think it is time for me to turn in. Here are some more questions that I would have addressed were I feeling more lucid, just in case you are totally bored and not drained from heat because you don't live in Colorado. What function does myth play in the last stanza? I touched on how it can be a burden in the first stanza, but how does this idea of burden play itself out in the final stanza? Why does Dufault use "un-advertize" and "un-self-aware" rather than a simpler term such as self-ignorant? And why does any of this make him want to call this you??? Maybe he realized that his person is part of his "plan", his greater arc, or maybe that is completely off-base. It's up to you! Dear friends and family, I hope that this poem has given you something to think about, or at least that you can appreciate one of the images within. I just realized that this close reading was enormous, but if you made it this far, I appreciate you! And if you didn't (you won't be reading this, for one) I completely understand. Goodnight!


Monday, May 16, 2005

Poem of the Week 5/16/2005: Lament for a Leg

Lament for a Leg

Near the tree under which the body of Dafydd ap Gwilym* is buried in Strata
Florida, Cardiganshire, there stands a stone with the following inscription:
"The left leg and part of the thigh of Henry Hughes, Cooper, was cut off and
interr'd here, June 18, 1756." Later the rest of Henry Hughes set off across
the Atlantic in search of better fortune.

A short service, to be sure,
With scarcely half a hymn they held,
Over my lost limb, suitable curtailment.
Out-of-tune notes a crow cawed
By the yew tree, amd me,
My stump still tourniqued,
Akward on my new crutch,
Being snatched towards the snack
Of a funeral feast they made.
With seldom a dry eye, for laughter,
They jostled me over the ale
I'd cut the casks for, and the mead.
"Catch me falling under a coach",
Every voice jested, save mine,
Henry Hughes, cooper. A tasteless caper!
Soon with my only, my best, foot forward
I fled, quiet, to far America.

Where, with my two tried hands, I plied
My trade and, true, in time made good
Through grieving for Pontrhydfendigaid.**
Sometimes, all at once, in my tall cups,
I'd cry in hiraeth*** for my remembered thigh
Left by the grand yew in Ystrad Fleur's
Bare ground, near the good bard.
Strangers, astonished at my high
Beer-flush, would stare, not guessing,
Above the bad-board, that I, of the starry eye,
Had one foot in the grave; thinking me,
No doubt, a drunken dolt in whom a whim
Warmed to madness, not knowing a tease
Of a Welsh worm was tickling my distant toes.

"So I bequeath my leg", I'd sat and sigh,
Baffling them, "my unexiled part, to Dafydd
The pure poet who, whole, lies near and far
from me, still pining for Morfudd's heart",
Giving him, generous to a fault
With what was no more mine to give,
Out of that curt plot, my quarter grave,
Good help, I hope. What will the great God say
At Dafydd's wild-kicking-climbing extra leg,
Jammed hard in heaven's white doorway
(I'll limp unnimble round the narrow back)
Come the quick trumpet of the Judgment Day?

John Ormond 1973

*Fourteenth-century Welsh poet
**Welsh place-name, as Ystrad-Fleur (line 23)
***Longing, nostalgia (Welsh). In my tall cups: very drunk

Good morning friends and family! I have to say that I usually put a shorter
poem in just for everybody's convenience (and my typing-laziness), but I read
this poem last night and that was that. It is somewhat surprising to find
funny literature; when I started reading in AP English, I was very serious
about it and thought that good books (and good poetry) couldn't be funny. Now
I know that some of the best ones are quite amusing. The trick is not to let
the funny bits clog up any of the weightier elements.

To begin, the epigraph itself is quite startling; I find it hilarious that
they erected a tombstone for somebody's leg. Ormond visualizes the funeral for
this lost limb as kind of a community joke. Nobody really laments (they are
all laughing too hard), the priest doesn't give more than "half a hymn," the
feast is simply a snack, and the music is a crow's cawing (some of you at UPS
might be familiar with this sort of thing haha). All in all, it is a rather
pathetic funeral, and we only realize that there is actually an element of
sadness because we hear about it from Henry Hughes's perspective. I have to
admit that I might be laughing at this funeral with the rest of them, so I am
glad that Ormond included Hughes' words to counterbalance that. He gets the
joke, noting that the truncated hymn is sort of morbidly appropriate, but,
when I see him at the funeral, I see him grinning to his friends and dropping
that facade when they turn away. They don't understand that underneath the
novelty of a funeral for a leg, somebody has lost something dear and precious.
He has literally lost a piece of himself, a limb he relied on and that carried
him many places.

As he goes to America, we understand more and more that Henry Hughes is a hard
worker and a loner. He quietly flees there (a sign that he was not happy in
Wales and that he did not care to attract a lot of attention to himself) and
makes good with what he has: two hands and the ability to grieve for his home.
This last asset seems like it would not be very helpful, but he here
acknowledges that he has to move on before he can wholly throw himself into
his new life. At least, that is what it appears. It seems as if Henry Hughes
is a man who is good at hiding himself. While he seems like the hard worker,
the kind of man who can live out the American Dream, shed his nationality and
go from rags-to-riches pulling himself up by his (one) bootstrap, he is
literally torn in two. In saying that he is a man with "one foot in the grave"
who is being tickled by a distant Welsh worm, he shows that something in him
has died, something is left on that shore so far away. The leg, then, becomes
a kind of allegory for lost nationhood and the pains of immigration. The
strangers don't understand that part of him is far, far away, lost, gone,
separate, dead.

The final stanza reinforces the poem's sadness and Henry's status as a loner.
He baffles the strangers around him because (a) they don't know him and (b)
they couldn't if the tried. As stated above, they don't understand what is
Welsh about him. They don't understand where he came from. This kind of
misunderstanding is perhaps the worst. When people don't know your home, it
has to stay inside. The new sites (for they would be new for Henry
Hughes)begin to push at the old ones, and one begins to believe that maybe
nobody will understand this ever. This is deeply tragic. Part of Henry is
literally still in this home place, home is still a piece of him and he of it,
and yet since nobody can see his inexorable Welshness, so he loses it. He
literally gives his Welshness to the poet Dafydd, perhaps hoping that it can
attain the kind of immortality that words can engender. When he says that the
leg "was no more mine to give", whose does it become? I think that it becomes
Wales' leg to give, and, since Wales seems no longer *his*, the leg is no
longer his. Maybe he bequeaths it to the Welsh poet as well because, if it is
part of Wales' heritage, perhaps he will someday be part of that heritage as

Ormond writes that the leg might help Dafydd out and goes on to describe a
somewhat comical scene in which a puzzled God watches this random third leg
trying to kick its way into heaven. The poem ends, however, on a note of
sadness. Hughes doesn't know whether God will recognize him (being recognized
is sort of like being understood or being seen the way I think about it), and
I read this as poor Hughes is so used to being misunderstood and unseen that
he doesn't believe that he will ever find a home. His situation feels so odd
and unrelatable that God won't even know what to do when his leg comes
stomping into Heaven. That is the truly sad part of this poem; he felt
alienated from his "friends" at his funeral and so he left Wales, only to feel
further estranged from himself, literally and figuratively. This poem thus
underlines the absolute necessity of human understanding; one cannot go
through life alone, acting on the outside for others. Otherwise, as Henry does
when he is drunk, the true self will bubble out the edges.

That's all for this week - hope you are all doing well, and I will see some of
you very soon who I have not seen in a long time, and others of you it will
still be a while. Have a good rest of your day!


PS - A number of you of late have requested to have the PotW sent to your
other friends or family. This is completely and totally fine - you all have my
permission to give this to whomever. If you want to send it off yourself, you
can do that, but I will be more than happy to simply add their names to my
email list. You have to send me the email addresses though!!!! Otherwise there
is nothing that I can do!!! So - send me the addresses if you want them added
or you will have to do it yourself. Thanks!

Monday, May 09, 2005

Poem of the Week 5/9/2005: Out of Hiding

Out of Hiding

Someone said my name in the graden,

while I grew smaller
in the spreading shadow of peonies,

grew larger by my absence to another,
grew older among the ants, ancient

under the opening heads of the flowers,
new to myself, and stranger.

When I heard my name again, it sounded far,
like the name of the child next door,
or a favorite cousin visiting for the summer,

while the quiet seemed my true name,
a near and inaudible singing
born of hidden ground.

Quiet to quiet, I called back.
And the birds declared my whereabouts all morning.

Li-Young Lee 2001

**I figured out which poem this is but don't have the response. Does anyone have it? Please? **

Monday, May 02, 2005

Poem of the Week 5/2/2005: Flowers


Some men never think of it.
You did. You'd come along
And say you'd nearly bought me flowers
But something had gone wrong.

The shop was closed. Or you had doubts -
The sort that minds like ours
Dream up incessantly. You thought
I might not want your flowers.

It made me smile and hug you then.
Now I can only smile.
But, look, the flowers you nearly brought
Have lasted all this while.

Wendy Cope 1992

Salutations, Greetings, and a Good Evening to all! I wanted to choose a bit of a lighter poem for this week, as finals are bearing down on me, as I am sure they are on many of you. There are two parts of this poem that I am particularly drawn to, of which the latter is probably more interesting to non lit dorks. But as I am a lit dork I get to go on about the first thing I like! I like that this poem is not only free verse, but that it makes no to-do about its rhetorical devices. The rhyme is simple and straightforward (along/wrong, ours/flowers, smile/while), and appears every other line rather than being a constricting form. It is a casual rhyme, almost incidental. The poem's general tone reflects this easy rhyme; the speaker is telling us an intimate, simple story, so the rhyme relaxes and decides not to be pretentious. Cope includes a decent amount of enjambment (i.e. end stops - when a sentence/
phrase ends where a line ends), but it too is more a nod to syntatic forms rather than a dictating force within the text. It aids the conversational tone by neither droning on nor stopping us suddenly with a flash of insight. Normal people talk with sentences of varying lengths, pauses, and connections, so the poem is consistent with this thought. Furthermore, it softens the poem's tone, somehow makes it gentler, more personal. This is a very private experience this speaker talks of (by the way, we can't presume Cope is the speaker, nor that the speaker is even a woman), so the rhetorical devices sort of tiptoe around within the poem. I didn't even notice the rhyme until at least a third or fourth reading.

At any rate, the tone is really what draws me to this poem. It is neither sentimental nor cloying, neither sad nor angry. We get a clear view of one part of these people; they are worriers, they are scared, but not in the afraid kind of way. Explanation: I had a few hours to kill in an airport leaving for Spring Break, so I was perusing the book shop, just generally picking over the airport clutter, thinking maybe I would find something. I came across a book by one of my favorite authors, Toni Morrison. She'd written simple stories for series of pictures she found from the social movements of the 1960s. The one that struck me most was a story of a young african american man about to boycott his job (I think it was that; it was in any case some risk he was taking). I distinctly remember the picture: it was of this eighteen year old boy sitting on a train, looking out the window as the landscape flicked by. His face was thoughtful. The line here read, "I am scared but not afraid." I thought about this for a long time, both on the plane and since. I think what she means to say is that "scared" is an emotion, a feeling, something real, yes, but it is not the same kind of affliction as is "afraid." "Scared" implies a more vulnerable spot, one in which deep seeded fears come out and can be overcome. At the same time, though, scared has a note of courage in it, while afraid is simply a condition, a way of life. I feel scared a lot, and I think that a lot of people do, but the trick is not being afraid. That's where the poem won me over. These are real people, sensitive, with fears and complicated explanations and emotions for even a small action.

Then, too, the narrator is still balanced and insightful - the lover is gone, yes, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. It is not a terrible betrayal, a monumental loss. Cope includes his absence as a fact, but not a dramatic one. She gives us a little physical space to reflect as the line ends (line 10), and then smoothly changes the subject to her real point; emotional deeds last longer than physical gestures. What matters is not the paltry proclamations of love we are supposed to recieve in a relationship, but just that the descision matters enough to think about, to worry about, to express. It questions the relevance of the physical world; actually, "questions" may be too forceful a word for this poem. It wonders about the tangible perhaps, but does not assert itself in the face of greater questions. Sometimes I wonder if we forget that the things worth writing poems about aren't always deep philosphical, theological, sociological, politcal, global things. Sometimes an action is worth a thousand words, or even just a non-action.

So there you go! I walked into this PotW thinking it was going to be short and sweet, and look how that turned out. I feel good writing this, better than I have in a while, actually. The culmination of the last couple days. If the nature of this reading does verge (and indeed cross into) the personal, that is simply because poetry is necessarily a personal experience. I hope that you all are able to connect with at least one of the poems I have sent out, or that you will be able to connect with one I will send out, because that just makes everything better (at least that's what I think). And how wonderful is it that twelve little lines managed to create so much more? Oh man, that's one of the things that really gets me going about poetry. In case you didn't notice. At any rate, Tara just mentioned that she likes a word, and I want to include it here not because it's directly relevant to this close read, but because it is very nice, and this poem was very nice, and you all are very nice. Kumquat. Have a good night!