Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Garden of Verse: Mysteries in Plain Poetic Sight

            There are many mysteries among the poems that delighted me in July's Verse-Virtual ( 
             Michael Minassian's poem "The Fortune Teller" reads like a deep parable with too many possible meanings for any of us to sort out simply. It features a Korean fortune teller, a finch who apparently understands Korean (and performs gymnastics in a cage), an angry exchange not simply or words but of roles, a mysterious neighbor, and a finale in which the poet carries a bird on his tongue. 
             Well, doesn't he? You have to read it.
             In another poem, "Three Days After the Fourth of July," we meet a neighbor (the neighbor of the foretelling? I don't know) getting publicly drunk on his lawn. In a fitting gesture for a national holiday the poet's waving notebook becomes "a white flag,/
spreading across the wide continent." 
           It all fits together, mysteriously, poetically, so.

            "One Time," anaffecting poem by Susan Deer Cloud, tells of her mother, who grew up during the Great Depression and sought solace in the fields, the earth and the "black breathing" beyond.
"She thought
she could ignore hunger,
forget her father’s claim
their people were no different
than the extinct panthers."
The poem's stunning last line suggests that 'her father's claim' may not be the whole story.

Joan Mazza writes of another mysterious guest in "Filamentous Algae," a new arrival in a local pond, following the sometime residence of lotus and bullfrogs and herons.
"Uninvited, you arrived in late spring. I spied
you from my office window, weaving mats
on the pond’s surface with your long hair."
As the accompanying photo suggests, long hair this thick can be dangerous. The poem concludes with an unexpected change in frame of reference, from environmental to personal, that leaves us surprised and thoughtful.

Ryan Warren's "Wind Horses" captures a perhaps universal human feeling and makes us feel it, in our animal selves. Watching those wind horses drive though the frigid ocean, the poet writes:

"Oh, how the ancient
mammalian map
within me yearns so
to curl up tightly,

to wrap my long tail
around my wet nose
and sink down into
some dark winter cave.

I love this poem's descriptive imagery -- "Each cresting curl
streams a white mane..."; "The gauzy curtain
of rain undulates..." We will grow tired of witnessing the world.

Then we come to DeWitt Clinton's incredible series of contemporary adaptations of poems by Tu Fu. What a project! I like all of these efforts in the July Verse-Virtual.
I find them naked, vulnerable, moving, witty, open and unsentimental. We're tempted to think of concretely descriptive, contemporary first-person poems as "confessional," but the confessional approach may be a mask, the adoption of a persona, the way Tu Fu adopts a face for certain poems. Maybe we should think of the "I" of these poems as a Tu Fu descendant. I love the titles of these poems, such as:
"Hanging in Rope Sirsasana, and Later, Lying in Supta Baddha Konasana,

I Realize How Eager I am to open the Page to Find Tu Fu’s 'Visitors'”
... a poem in which, if I have the right one, Tu Fu subtly takes down the pretensions of an official visitor by emphasizing the spare homeliness of his own dwelling and way of life while employing the language of courtesy. Clinton's poem begins:
"It’s been so long now, I wonder about all who
Come for tea, and why so few find their way..."  
And ends with the poem's speaker praising the quietness of his own nights, with no apparent irony:
"Spies, lovers, medical examiners,
Aliens, all stop by to wish us a safe and dreamy night."
Brilliant line; I think I've been there.

This is followed by "Sunday Afternoon, Northern Hemisphere After Travelling 36 Miles Nowhere on a Stationary Bike
I Peer Out the Window and See Tu Fu
Sipping Wine, Composing 'Sunset'" 

Tu Fu's poem, in its Kenneth Rexroth translation, consists of a mellow description of sights by a riverside and ends with the observation that one good, thick glass of wine can dispel all your worries. Clinton's poem, a minor key reply, ends with remembering those you have lost.  

In "After Watching Another NCIS Episode, I Retreat to My Office To Read ' Pass the Night at General Headquarters' by Tu Fu,"
the speaker is a Vietnam veteran following the news of the war in Afghanistan. "Sometimes," he says,
"I wonder if I’ve ever left my post, still
Shouldering an old rusty M16, long out
Of ammo, stuck on Hill 477 in camouflage."
All of these are beautiful, and leave us with mysteries to contemplate.