Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Garden of Verse: Poems of Memory and Places, Recollections and Losses



             So many beautiful poems, arresting lines and images in the June 2016 edition of Verse-Virtual. Among the poems that got to me Joyce Brown's  "Cultivation," calls to me by the title alone because garden poems are so ripe with metaphorical potential. And, as in this poem, personification is a natural gesture.
            "The poor beets didn’t have a chance," Brown begins. "Neither did my gentle bean and pepper plants."
            I know just how she feels. Some plants kept trespassing on the space that 'belong' to others. "I’m at a loss with vegetable aggression," the poet writes. (So am I.) We can't deal with it, but we know nature will. Nature also takes its course, and we know how things will end: "Winter will kill the garden anyway..."
            Winter -- yet another natural subject for more poems. With its own box of metaphors.

A poem about a place, Thomas Erickson's "St. Augustine" picks out the sticking-point details to make a convincing whole of the parts.

"Everything is the oldest here—
the oldest house, the oldest mission,
the oldest park where they walk past
the bromeliads and seashell geegaws
for sale on the site of the oldest slave market
in North America."
            I've been to this earliest of settlements, so florid and diverse (and such a contrast to the wintry-survivalist religious Pilgrim narrative of the Northeast). The place teems with old history and new green growth, and something in between like those "bromeliads," plants that grow on other plants with no direct contact with soil. The word itself sounds like a metaphor for human culture. And "St. Augustine" the poem puts us in the place, with its stark history and beautiful setting.

Two moving poems from Alan Walowitz, one with a title that says so much, "The Anatomy of Longing." A similarly thought-provoking, mystically creepy is line attributed to a doctor, "Medicine has no name for this," which by itself could be the father of many poems.
            "No Use," a poem about preserving memories when memory fails, takes us by specific routes to difficult places, like the poet's attempt to stimulate an older relative's memories of a shared past by studying a map:
"on a map we try to navigate
the bus routes through Queens
and the neighborhoods we’d pass
on our way to the city..."
            Everything in the shared, recollected world is meaningful, the poem suggests, but not so much when you can't remember it.

Dick Allen's poem "Two Cranes" connects sightings of two great, splashy, picturesque birds, outsize celebrity visitors -- dwarfing New England's smaller-scaled avian population -- to the American writers Hart Crane and Stephen Crane.
"Hart Crane was most surely
a Great Egret Heron, given to low croaking calls and sudden flights
across Thrushwood Lake at dawn or dusk, although
like Stephen, mateless."
            The poem ends with a beautiful line (I won't spoil it here) connecting these spectacular water birds to the writers' more dangerous love of the watery element.
            
            Robert Wexelblatt's "Self-denial" is a marvelous poem that puts me in a chilly mood right at the start: "His thermostat is set at 58." Thought is dressed in telling garments here, like the subject of this poetic meditation. I love this image:
"In the void of his closet, one blue suit,
a relic of prehistoric weddings,
hangs like a traitor executed long
ago."
            We've all probably encountered a figure like this somewhere, so zen and giving-up-everything that he doesn't quite exist any more. Maybe we are our foibles.
  
"Two Children on the Seaside Rocks" by Penny Harter is a poem about a painting that preserves a time and its truth, somehow both momentary and lasting. The particulars of images, unique living moments, the poem tells us, live in our memories and imaginations:
"The rocks striated brown shot through with moss,
the weathered boathouse and dock at low tide,
the hazy garments blowing on the clothes line
strung between two trees behind the outhouse—..."
            The poem does to the painting what the act of creating works of visual art does to its subject.. as the poem itself shows us in this marvelous image:
"catching time in a sieve, netting the light..."
            Maybe some poems do this too.
            See http://www.verse-virtual.com/poems-and-articles.html