Monday, November 27, 2006

Poem of the Week 11/27/2006: The Sun Underfoot Among the Sundew

The Sun Underfoot Among the Sundew

An ingenuity too astonishing
to be quite fortuitous is
this bog full of sundews, sphagnum-
lined and shaped like a teacup.
                                                A step
down and you're into it: a
wilderness swallows you up:
ankle-, then knee-, then midriff-
to-shoulder-deep in wetfooted
understory, an overhead
spruce-tamarack horizon hinting
you'll never get out of here.
                                            But the sun
among the sundews, down there,
is so bright, an underfoot
webwork of carnivorous rubies,
a star-swarm thick as the gnats
they're set to catch, delectable
double-faced cockleburs, each
hair-tip a sticky mirror
afire with sunlight, a million
of them and again a million,
each mirror a trap set to
unhand unbelieving,
                                that either
a First Cause said once, "Let there
be sundews," and there were, or they've
made their way here unaided
other than by that backhand, round-
about refusal to assume responsibility
known as Natural Selection.
                                           But the sun
underfoot is so dazzling
down there among the sundews,
there is so much light
in the cup that, looking,
you start to fall upward.

Amy Clampitt 1983

Some explicatory notes: this poem tells the story of a (wo?)man walking into a bog and falling into a deep, marshy area of sundews. I don't know how this works, and I am too tired to look it up, but that is what I get from the poem. She falls, but, slightly afraid of dying, sees the sundews shining out. They are so beautiful, that it seems that she is falling the opposite way.

That is an incredibly crude explanation of this poem, but my hope is that this little summary will help you parse out the poem yourself. Maybe it will help? It is a beautiful poem - light imagery always gets me.

I chose it because it's snowing here, and I was amused at the juxtaposition. Goodnight!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Poem of the Week 11/20/2006: A Few Moments

A Few Moments

The dwarf pine on marsh grounds holds its head up: a dark rag.
But what you see is nothing compared to the roots,
the widening, secretly groping, deathless or half-
deathless root system.

I you she he also put roots out.
Outside our common will.
Outside the City.

Rain drifts from the summer sky that's pale as milk.
It is as if my five senses were hooked up to some other creature
that moves with the same stubborn flow
as the runners in white circling the track as the night comes misting in.

by Tomas Transtomer
translated by Robert Bly 2001

Robert Bly's interest is in poetry that is highly metaphorical; he is one of the most vocal members of the "Deep Image" school of poetry, which writes images that harmonize with the spiritual interior of a human. Much of his work has been translating poets such as Transtomer, Vallejo, and others whose names I cannot remember. He asks for a poetry that is almost Biblical in the symbolism of its imagery, I suppose.

I read this poem as an articulation of man's subconscious. This subconscious is scattered, complex, growing, unknown, much like the imagery and form of this poem. Transtomer opens with an image establishing, on one level, the smallness of man: "the dwarf pine." He personifies the tree, for it holds its poor head up, "a small rag." The pine is usually a tall tree, but, as I remember, a dwarf pine is a species that cannot grow much higher than the height of a man (please somebody correct me if I am wrong!). Thus, in this image is the idea of something stunted, limited, meager. With the pine, "what you see is nothing compared to the roots."

This line, though, offers a second interpretation of the tree. It may not merely be a humble human, but man's visible, or conscious thoughts. What we see of what we think, for most, comprises little of actual existence. Most of existence, the subconscious, is a tangled web of roots. Like the subconscious, the roots are unknown and complex, "widening [and] secretly groping." Looking deeper into the image, we find that roots feed a tree, which implies that subconscious feeds us.

Speaking of subconscious, sleep is taking over my brain. I will finish this tomorrow, I hope. It is beautiful; I hope you all agree.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Poem of the Week 11/13/2006: No Tears

No Tears

Roses, Christ knows how they got to be so lovely,
green skies over the city
in the evening
in the ephemeral of the years!

The yearning I have for that time
when one mark thirty was all I had,
yes, I counted them this way and that,
I trimmed my days to fit them,
days, what am I saying days: weeks on bread and plum mush
out of earthenware pots
brought from my village,
still under the reselects of native poverty,
how raw everything felt, how tremblingly beautiful!

What good is the luster conferred by European pundits,
the great name,
the pour le merite,
people who shoot their cuffs and tool on,

it's only the ephemeral that's beautiful,
looking back, the poverty,
the frowstiness* that didn't know what it was,
sobs, and stands in line for its dole,
what a wonderful Hades
that takes away the frowst,
and the pundits both--
please, no tears,
no one say: oh, I was so lonesome.

Gottfried Benn 2006
*Hot stuffy fustiness.

It would do one good to ask why Benn opens the poem with the image of a rose; roses are a symbol of Christ (not so subtly associated in this poem), but they, again obviously, have thorns. Beauty and pain go together, the first lesson of the rose.

That is certainly how the narrator feels in this poem; he longs for his time of poverty, the kind of romantic simplicity of a life without too many goods. In what I find to be the best line of the poem, he calls this, "the rushlight of native poverty." That is, this kind of poverty lights softly, intimately, beautifully. And the rush goes out in an instant, unlike the steady, green throb of city lights in the opening section.

Essentially, this poem is concerned with many of the things I am thinking about now: simplicity, modernity, loneliness, beauty, and the sky. It is perhaps not as dense as it could be, but why make it so? It speaks to me. Modern society is lonely, harsh, tearful. We of course must question a romantic notion of the past, but this seems to be authentic. My best friend and I were recently talking about idealizing certain moments of high school, even, because it was so raw and new. Life was less clogged, then, I think. Perhaps that is what Benn is talking about.

He almost implies some kind of force or violence in the modern world when he writes of "people who shoot their cuffs." This is the harshness that seeks glory, a great name, some kind of masculine, lustrous permanence.

Modernity even turns the "native poverty" into something sad and broken. Only in cities do long lines of homeless stretch out over the city, perhaps because the modern world requires so much of us. It tires us, breaks us, makes us cry.

To be in a place of poverty and simplicity, now that's a different story. There is real beauty, and so real connectedness with the world. Rather than the mass-produced, buzzing fluorescent lights all around the modern world, a simple world is intimate, personal, ephemeral: a tiny lit reed flickering in the night.

I don't mean this to be a rant, but I stumbled on this poem exactly at the right time for myself. It's funny how that happens.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Poem of the Week 11/6/2006: Proust in the Waters

Proust in the Waters

Swimming along the bar of moon
the yellow scattered sleeping
arm of moon
on Balsam Lake

releasing the air
out of your mouth
the moon under your arm
tick of the brain
submerged. Tick
of the loon's heart
in the wet night thunder
below us
knowing its shore is the air

We love things which disappear
and are found
creatures who plummet
and become
an arrow.
To know the syllables
in a loon sentence
shift of preposition
that signals meridian
west south west.
The mother tongue
a bubble caught in my beak
releasing the air
of a language

Seeing no human in this moon storm
being naked in black water
you approach the corridor
such jewellery! Queen Anne's Lace!
and slide to fathoms.
The mouth swallows river morse
throws a sound
through the loom of liquid
against sky.

Where are you?

On the edge
of the moon bar

Michael Ondaatje 1984

This strange and dreamy poem is concerned with language, connection, fragmentation, time, and solitariness, I think. It traces the location of another person, finding her through a web of moonlit shards. We have an interesting unity between water, loon, moon, and human. My thinking is muddy, but this poem is not! It is clear and luminous, even. Sometimes these things plant themselves in your mind; you read them over and over, and the meaning only unfolds after time. These are the poems that you live, that you act out, that you must wait for. Poetry and life go together, remember?

Even writing that loosened my thoughts a bit; the end is a coming together. The only instance of actual, spoken dialog in the poem (the other words are merely "releasing the air," "a bubble caught in my beak," and "the river morse." It is as if the two people are learning to talk, or perhaps finding their words among lunacy (of love?). I think I picked this poem because of the moon, the fragmentation, and the beautiful language.