Well, first and foremost, happy fourth birthday, blog. I suppose I should start looking at blog-kindergartens and whatnot. The official day is actually, I think, tomorrow, but since I know I won’t have time to post, might as well mention it now. My blog is a Taurus-cusp-Gemini.
It’s been a pretty hectic week, but I’ve let the weekend just kind of happen as it will, which is refreshing. But as I may have mentioned before, I am worried that work has drained so much out of me already (calmness, rest, low blood pressure, relationship stability) that now it’s starting in on my creativity. The silver lining is that, for example, a bunch of us coworkers got together yesterday for a brunch that turned into a seven-hour event. If I do have occasion to plan an exit strategy, I will miss them.
It’s raining here in New York. I want to feel like this is a good day. The Refinery could use some warmth in the gears and grinders:
“There is No Rain Tonight” by Guy Traiber
Guy Traiber is one of the blogger-poets I’ve known longest (why, almost four years, in fact!) online, and I am constantly envious of his travel stories, his propensity for meditative thought, and the easy simplicity he seems to cultivate. On top of that, he writes poetry in a couple different languages, which I always appreciate. He also has a book coming out (although the current byline on his blog is “this is not a poetry book — in fact I am not sure what kind of book it is”) called the Pocket Zen Book of Irrelevant Answers. Looking forward to it! But in the meantime, please see the verse below, which I think is a good representative of Guy’s writing style…
There is no rain tonight.
The meteorologist foresees rain during the weekend
but this is not a tropical land;
no rain falls to extinguish
no rain to interrupt the sleepless
The only falling things are the piano’s
hammers: a melody in a diminished scale
with bass notes;
the right hand is left
free to scratch and there is much of that
tonight: fingers groping lonesome bodies,
children strolling grownups’ valleys,
thirsty mosquitoes fluttering in the drying puddle
under my window,
words fumbling lines
that would’ve never been written
if the rain was coming
to play Dvořák’s romantic larghetto.
It’s always good to have a poem about not-raining on a day when it is raining (and vice versa), in my opinion. Without further ado, some further opinions:
- Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading Jane Hirshfield’s Nine Gates, but I’ve been very set on this idea of how internal and personal to make a poem, and the subtle effect of an implied voice within an otherwise ego-less poem. I’m centering on a single word here: that “my” in the sixth line of the second stanza, which I want gone. I was perfectly enchanted right up until that moment, and I’m making a big deal out of such a small thing to make a point about the presence of the poet. If you’ll notice, there are no other pronouns in the entire poem: it’s a piece that brings in a constant, easy flow of new and specific images. But as in haiku and some other types of waka, there is an implied presence in the images. The piano does not play itself (and don’t say “it could be a player piano”, bear with me), someone needs to watch/interpret the meteorologist, it takes a human consciousness to assign adjectives like “lonesome” and “romantic”. That kind of subtle reflection is very powerful, and I feel that “my” disrupts it; why not just “the”, or even “a”? Conversely, if this is meant to make plain the speaker, the poem might benefit from even just a couple more hints of “I”, “my”, or “you”/”your”, but I suspect it’s not meant to be that kind of a poem (and in fact, would lose some of its power ).
- I think the poem needs to figure out where it wants to land. In workshop, we talk very often about the microscope versus the telescope, and how each poem ought to end by either zooming out from its contents to carry the reader’s thoughts outward, or by zooming in to a very specific moment which sums up the poem into a microcosm. The poem ends on its most specific image of Dvořák’s larghetto, the meaning of which we can sort of get from the poem (it’s a piano piece; it’s romantic/Romantic), but not all (the quality of Dvořák’s music, unless we’ve heard it before; what a larghetto is). Assume that your reader has no background in the details you’re tossing in (in this case, Romantic music), and can’t be bothered to find out. Mosquitoes, meteorologists, children, hands, and pianos are all pretty universal, but you take a chance when you introduce a proper noun. I do like the concept of rain coming to play the piece in the poem, which would then make the poem itself needless — it’s a complex and whimsical combination that works, I think — but the larghetto could be introduced more delicately earlier. In the grander scheme, though, the poem starts with a very general statement, and then follows with a succession of details that don’t seem to strike at something deeper. I feel as though there’s a larger point to be made, which the elements of the poem could lead to or at least demonstrate, which is not coming across as well as it should.
- And following from that, while I like the complicated images, they do take time to figure out, which might distract the careless reader. For example, the “tropical land” and extinguishing summer: doesn’t rain often extinguish summer in non-tropical lands? What is all this “scratching” that is being alluded to? What are grownups’ valleys and “words fumbling lines”? They seem to fit into the poem when I read it, and I can glean some kind of meaning by digging deep into the phrases, but they can be impenetrable (still beautiful, though!) when read quickly. The reader’s intention skips off their surface as light would from a jewel. I’d recommend making each link in this chain of events an images more defined and clearer: are the children roaming around because there’s no rain? Does the poet feel that lines are being fumbled because the absence of rain is less lyrical than rain itself? The number, type, and quality of images seem to be correct here; I’m just not convinced that they’re described in the way they need to be.
And the fineries that don’t need a re-:
- As mentioned, I love the concept and images of the poem, which stand out the more times you read the thing. “The only falling things”: gorgeous! It reminds me of Li-Young Lee’s “One Heart”, which has been one of my favorite poems since I heard Dorianne Laux read it at the Dodge Festival. I almost want to see less motion in the poem (no scratching or groping), just those hammers falling. A sweeping statement of setting and connection with nature in the first line, followed by such an amusingly specific second line, creates a great contrast and sense of space in the piece. The story as I read it, overall, is this: poet is playing piano (possibly with one hand) on a quiet, rainless summer night, with all of these small things of the world happening around him and reflecting the easy feel of the larghetto, but he is contemplating how rain would alter the world, and his poem. This is pulled off masterfully.
- In addition to the theme, and with the few exceptions I noted above, the word choice is well done, I think. Those verbs are music themselves: extinguish, interrupt, grope, flutter. And although I take some issue with bringing in Dvořak’s name, at least the position of it, the central nouns that are the cores of the imagery are well-picked: like I said, they’re universal, and straightforward, elegant things to pick. That first line rings like a meditation bell, and that second line with meteorologist and foresee and weekend is just so steeped in the chaos of daily modern life; if that wasn’t intentional, my compliments to Guy for his instinct on the structure of that opening.
- The character of rain is not quite personified here, though giving it the capacity to play a larghetto is certainly dancing around the idea. I do like how the title echoes the first line, and then the word “rain” appears over and over like a lover’s name in the first stanza; the suggestion is that even though rain is not here, it is still a presence that will make itself known. It disappears for a while in the middle of the poem, and then comes back right at the end, surprising with its return as rain often is. (Although this rain seems to just want to make some music, not necessarily refresh the mosquitoes or extinguish the summer.) The meteorological aspects of the poem were almost more attractive to me than the human ones, though I suspect both are essential to the poem. I would suggest that Guy dig deeper into why both of these halves are in the poem, and what work they are doing to create the mood he wants: then, figure out whether one or both need more or less detail/description, and do some fleshing out or stripping down.
A few more things:
- I’m nit-picking, because this is a fine poem, but the non-pianists among the readership may not get some of the piano terms at the end of the first stanza, let alone “larghetto”.
- Very fond of the enjambment going on here. No line seems too long or too short, and no line seems to say more or less than it needs to.
- Something about the punctuation is bothering me. Try playing with it.
- Listening to some Dvořak as I type this, and thinking that they work very well together, the poem and the music. I believe I know just the kind of rain Guy means.
So I hope those suggestions will be helpful to Guy on further crafting the poem; I think it needs relatively little work to achieve its goal. And for those of you who want to draw some inspiration from the piece, here is a prompt for y’all:
Put on a piece of classical music from your favorite era. (Mine’s either Renaissance or Romantic, but your call.) What natural images (landscapes, biology, weather) do the piece summon up? Write a poem that combines your everyday life with those images, and consider what different elements (like music, other people, etc.) influence how you’d react to when the natural and the daily combine or collide. Then decide whether you want those elements to be present in the poem, and how much of the natural and everyday should be too. The poem should not have more than four complete sentences, and the title should be the same as the first line.
Cheers, and see you next time!