Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Garden of Verse: Words of Wisdom in January Verse-Virtual

            In this month's edition of "Verse-Virtual," David Graham's marvelously straight-talking essay addresses a subject he tellingly defines as the "most valuable currency in our culture" -- fame. His column "Poetic License" appears regular in the online poetry journal. Entitled "Are You Famous?" Graham's January column considers the slim commerce between fame and contemporary poetry, winding up with this wise and memorable conclusion:
            "Literature grows not from capital H History, but out of the most particular circumstances. So as for the stigma of being merely local poets, as most of us assuredly are, maybe let’s celebrate that instead. Homer wasn’t Homer at first, after all, just your hometown bard singing hometown songs."
            Some of the poems that moved me this month also offered what I might call 'songs of wisdom' on a variety of fundamental questions.
            There's almost too much wisdom in Robert Wexelblatt's "Mortality." Recalling some long-ago 'perfect day' the poem "One Day with Mortality" makes this startlingly true observation:
            We recall, but not the day,
        nor what we did.  Melancholy, to think
        we recall only our recollections.
 So much for preserving our best and happiest memories. 
            What about language? The poet offers us this remarkable image: 
Our words are ... like smoke rings that bluely hover near,
        then slowly swell to fill our solitary
        rooms with insubstantial snakes.
            Taken all in all, then, what we can say of 'ourselves'?
 Compressed like thick springs, our pasts tighten
        inside us.  We are warped and woven with the 
        rubber bands and bits of lint that time stashes
        in a pocket’s bottom.
            Great, inventive writing. 
            Wex's short poem "Falling Leaves" also offers words of wisdom on how we can measure a happy earthly existence.

            Our memories may not be able to restore the thing-in-itself, but the act of recollecting a deeply felt experience may point us to a meaning; and the imagery may even reveal itself as allegory. In Michael Minassian's moving poem "Postcard from Key West" a fraught road trip to a less than ideal sanctuary leads to a personal truth: 
I suddenly realize
that love is like the Overseas Highway:
sometimes the road doesn’t go on anymore – ...
            Wisdom can also consist of lightening up, as the title of Dick Allen's poem "Don’t Tell Me There’s No Hope" suggests. In its allusions to signs and sayings, the poem offers a state of mind that stakes out a liveable distance from the expectations of meaning,
such as that "mysterious Asian saying, “A day without vegetables is like a day without vegetables.”
And the Colorado landscape sign at the end of this list of acceptable outcomes: "Here’s to salt water taffy, power lines, cross-purposes,
that sign by the Colorado meadow:  Wildflowers in Progress,
            The poem is an urbane lyric that suggests a Whitmanic "I Hear America Calling," embrace of experience, but allows for the possibility of a wrong number.

            Then there's the wisdom of making everything kind of fun, or even funny. That seems to be the approach Sonia Greenfield takes in "Nine Limericks," the first one informing us that 
"There was a young woman named Sonia
Who feasted on cake and lasagna."
            These formula-poems are alive to the possibility of word play. So as not to spoil too many, I limit myself to quoting one: 
Labor stories are meant to scare
Though I’m pregnant with nary a care
My water may break
While I’m out having steak
But the chance is medium-rare.
            How brilliant is that last line? And how much fun is rhyming? 

            To read these poems for yourself and all the others, go to: