Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Garden of Verse: Poems That Speak Their Name

 
The "optional theme" for the April edition of Verse-Virtual is 'poetry.' Not all of these poems set out to address that theme, but they all get there, if only by being themselves.

I don't remember which Eastern European country the eminent poet Charles Simic is from, but Kate Sontag's poem "National Poetry Month with Charles Simic" captures the mood of disquieting difference readers notice in his verse, an unsettling quality this poem neatly pinpoints as "news from some other universe." Simic's disturbing "childhood accent" turns our own native tongue "mundane as cornfields," Sontag writes. Her poem's final, beautifully stitched together stanza captures the paradox of chilling truths we need to hear in the lines:
"I could almost kiss each of your books for/ containing such sustaining nightmares".  

Lenny DellaRocca's poem "Somewhere Downhill" reads like a prophecy to me, the sort where the tricksy prophets give you some words but leave plenty of room for interpretation. And I do like the words here, such as these lines giving shape to some ephemeral crossing of destinies:
"I will be a father in these hills.
Her black eyes will keep me in her years."

I also like DellaRocca's poem "A Distance of Summer," which captures some part of the true Long Island experience:
"The distance between us
filled with towns."
          As someone who grew up in that flat land, I know you can find distances between point X and point Y wholly lacking in forests, lakes, or mountains. But you will never find a distance without towns.

I admired Robert Wexelblatt's "Today's Poem" because it seems to me that most days could be the "today" of this poem. Contributing to the issue's theme of the nature of 'poetry,' the verse posits a poet who strolls through a garden pretending to be Japanese. He wishes to see the peonies as the classical poet Basho would or to say something "unexpected" about the appearance of Fujiyama rising over the horizon. That sudden mountain, I suggest, is the "suchness" of existence. Even poets run out of ways to evoke wonder and the miraculous, but we still need to take a good look.
Wonder is all around us in so many of these April poems that tell us about 'poetry' while also telling us about something else. W.W. Lantry shows us "Strawberries," particularly in these lines where the verbs roll off the tongue, suggesting the way strawberry plants grow and spread in the spring:
"...but in their fields sprawl across the mounds of earth, where tendrils spin, stretch, clutch, until they root and start to swell."
Strawberry plants are alive in the spring. We hope our poems are too.
Sometimes poetry is the temple of pure invention. Sonia Greenfield's "Celebrity Stalking" is a witty role reversal that sends screen stars stalking poets to "ask about pentameter," as the poem puts it, or solicit "sexstinas (sic)".
Similarly inventive, her poem "Ode on a Floppy Disc" leaves us with a perfectly horrifying apocalyptic image at the end of this "ode" to all the poems that do not exist -- 
for example, "The poem,
maybe the loveliest written,
too arresting to speak."
-- by asking us to contemplate
"That poem about the house
fire, cracking its hot whip
against the hard-drive,
literally taking it all.”
Please, anything but that.   

And in a poem tellingly titled "I Shouldn't Even Write This,"
maybe some part of this creation's invention is up to us.
We know there's something we're not being told,
but we feel its fire ("that rage/
those words are mine") nevertheless.

Firestone Feinberg's "Poetry's Fork" is a solid stab at the issue's optional theme, landing a direct hit at its target, as the poem's language illustrates its sense:
"When you hear rhymes, especially in metered lines,
they distract you like chimes,"

Leading us to a conclusion, both allusive and concise, that suggests some fair-minded judge's decision:
"So the matter is.
Divergent roads never merge.
Walk another way."

David Chorlton's "Poetry in a Political Year" suggests that poetry is a lonely voice of eloquence, sweet reason and style lost in the hard-sell clamor for attention in a time of wall-to-wall campaign rhetoric. He writes:
"The Electoral College doesn’t pay attention
to line breaks and even when Lincoln
was elected didn’t recite
anything that rhymed."
Caught up in the current atmosphere, I might have said the electoral college has no standards, sets an absurdly low bar for admission, and accepts members utterly lacking in qualifications: Throw the bums out! How much more poetic to bring up Lincoln and point out the absence of rhyme.

Laura Kaminiski's "night iris" illustrates the theme of "Patience" by describing a vigil spent watching each bud of a paintbrush iris unfold, waiting for every last petal:
"to loosen slightly,
take a deeper drink
stretch as if it is
a new-formed
wing, then swing
free of its still-tucked-in
kin. and then the next."

We might say nature is a kind of poetry too.