Noises

I think — think — this is my fiftieth draft this month (not all of them have been posted), not counting a few revisions of old work along the way. Which means I might achieve my goal of doing two poems + one prompt each day in April after all, which would be a huge relief. (I could sleep happy into May 1.) Maybe I will try to get a little bit ahead of myself this weekend to ease up on Monday and Tuesday next week. But a lot of these also have been remixes, found poems, re-worked texts, and a translation; not sure if I should count those. I suppose the point is to mess with language a little bit and see what happens, yeah? In any case, I think this year’s NaPo has exhausted me than any other I’ve done so far, and I need some serious regroup after it. For now, this is for Poets + Writers‘ challenge to open a book you’re reading (mine: Jane Hirshfield’s Nine Gates) to a random page (75) and use only the words on that page to make a “literary object”. The title is a throwaway, and I don’t actually feel the way I describe here, but I suppose it works, kind of. Meh. I think I’m usually better off when I just write my own thing… damn this prompt-addiction!

Noises

When I learned longing,
it was too abstract, too dark
with the American night.
My dream-shell might be
casual ink; my fierce choices
free of translation.
An emotional phrase grows
husked and rare in my ears,
later to turn black
with functions. The moon always
explaining; the custom of love
a world-weight, appearing.
Why, I also learned opening,
original and imagistic,
but inside the usual vividness
I stood here too aware. I was
made in reverse, then
believed that image mine.

Vädersolstavlan

Another Miz Quickly prompt! (The rain has picked up considerably, and I am finished with dinner and all, so there is really nothing more to do tonight except writing poems and some freelance translation; I’ll be up a while anyway.) Yesterday’s was to pick a day in history and key off that for a poem. There were a couple options, spread over April 18, 19, and 20 (since it’s already April 20 everywhere east of here), but I settled on the Sun Dog Phenomenon of 1535 (thanks Wikipedia) over Stockholm. It was the inspiration for the famous, apparently “Swedish pride” kind of painting whose title this poem has borrowed. See below:

Pretty beautiful, no? Look at all them little sundogs and parhelia! And since the 1500s were a good time for seeing meaning in astronomical events, I thought I’d do a cute little paean to the painting and the nation of Sweden, as it’s a pretty cool nation. Well, most of the time. I’m sure some others might disagree.

Vädersolstavlan

After the birth of a city
comes the idea of the city

gloried like a construct saint:
miracle of the raised beam,

miracle of the placed stone.
And good as any flag comes

this vision of a ringing sun,
as if it were a great bell tone

and the city the echo
upon echo, all the sun’s noise

rippling around a hopeful bay.
The idea drinks, takes root:

miracle of a nation
spoken into one place.

Sacred Spring

…and another one, back to back. (It’s been a nice little evening at the café, and I am about to trundle home.) This is for another Miz Quickly prompt, an ekphrastic one from today. The title comes from the Gauguin painting provided. See below:

I’ve had Kay Ryan’s “Crown” just going nonstop in my head for days now, and this poem was a direct attempt to get it out by copying it relentlessly, more or less. (There was a dash of Robert Frost as well, but I think it’s mostly been effaced.) Anyway, it has very little to do with the painting. But it inspired Tessa’s poem, too, so I guess that is how art grows beyond itself. Hurrah!

Sacred Spring

At times, evening clouds
tumble like ripe fruit.
What daring enterprise–
to shake heaven by its root.
The sky, then, must be
the organ-pool that bred it.
What fool plucks a tear–
before some god sheds it?

The Artist’s Dream

Ten minutes to spare, and I am beasting out a poem before bed. This is actually not an original: Poets and Writers asked for translations, though I think they were half-serious. Maybe tomorrow I’ll do a looser, more goofy one, but since I just wanted to exercise some part of my brain creatively before calling it quits tonight*, I grabbed the book of Émile Nelligan poems I picked up in Montréal last time I was there, and chose one at random. He’s a very formal poet from the last century, so his style is quite unlike mine, but I don’t mind it so much. Viv can probably do a much better one; this was rushed, and pretty free with the perfect alexandrine sonnet form of the original. Anyway, it’s something, which (this month) is almost always better than nothing.

(* My caveat is that I did have workshop tonight, and I was very proud of what I wrote for it; I think they liked it better than the one I actually revised/prepared for discussion. But as I don’t make a habit of posting workshop poems on here… another was needed.)

The original French:

Rêve d’artiste

Parfois j’ai le désir d’une sœur bonne et tendre,
D’une sœur angélique au sourire discret :
Sœur qui m’enseignera doucement le secret
De prier comme il faut, d’ésperer et d’attendre.

J’ai ce désir très pur d’une sœur éternelle,
D’une sœur d’amitié dans le règne de l’Art,
Qui me saura veillant à ma lampe très tard
Et qui me couvrira des cieux de sa prunelle ;

Qui me prendra les mains quelquefois dans les siennes
Et me chuchotera d’immaculés conseils,
Avec le charme alié des voix musiciennes ;

Et pour qui je ferai, si j’aborde à la gloire,
Fleurir tout un jardin de lys et de soleils
Dans l’azur d’un poème offert à sa mémoire.

…and, my translation:

The Artist’s Dream

Sometimes I wish for a sister, gentle and kind,
angelic, and with a Mona Lisa smile:
a sister who will softly teach me the way
to pray as one must, to hope for a while.

I have this pure wish for a sister, eternal,
who keeps company with the essence of Art,
who’ll know me by the lamp that burns late
and come cover me with the sky in her heart.

Sometimes she’ll take my hands in her own
and whisper in my ear some sisterly advice
in a strange melody that charms with its tone.

And if I can follow her out of the world,
I’ll grow a garden sown with lilies and stars
to her honor, in a sky-blue poem I’ve unfurled.

Gauguin’s Washerwomen

One more before I quit the café, seeing as they close in twenty minutes, and I need to cook myself some wholesome food. Poets and Writers has some good-looking prompts this month, and as I am a subscriber and everything, I thought I’d give their ekphrastic prompt a try (from Day 2). The suggestion was to go to the MoMa website, where I found the Gauguin painting referenced in the title:

At the workshop on Monday, I brought an ekphrastic poem, and I do want to share a few musings that came up in that discussion. First and foremost, it is terribly important to move outside the frame of the painting; the poem should stand on its own. Pretend that the person has no way of seeing the painting, or even the title, for a clue. If you’re too focused on the images and things going on in the image, you may lose some of the power, and an ekphrastic poem should never diminish a poem’s power, only enhance or at least complement it. Secondmost, do this as soon as possible within the poem! In this piece, I got a little bit meta, talking about the artist as much as the poem itself, and the importance of both, which may not have been the best tack. Do what you have to do to immediately indicate to the reader that this is a poem about the poet considering art, not necessarily a narrative or exploration inside the painting itself. (You can do that too, but they tend to be more peculiar than the former.) And lastly, any references you do make to what’s inside the frame should be as universal as possible. Therefore, this poem ended up being a praise poem about ladies! And not in a romantic or objectifying way, or at least, I hope it doesn’t come across that way: it’s half a blazon-poem for the mothers (and I suppose wives), sisters, aunts, grandmothers, etc., without whom (and without whose Herculean efforts) none of us would be here.

Perhaps you would like to try this prompt as well…?

Gauguin’s Washerwomen

Praise be to the ones who take us, lightly,
by the chin, and turn our heads around
to see the history of labor laid out in our wake.
Praise be to those languages where machine
is a feminine noun, worn through as it is
with a thousand thousand pairs of careful arms
so used to the weight of a child and hands
that have memorized every inch of every home:
praise be to the ones who show us that.
Praise be to a woman’s work, which is never
finished, and to a woman’s strength, and to
the life-weavers whose names and faces
we cannot know, without whose loving patience
we would not exist to praise them now.
Praise be to the tired back and stooped neck.
Praise be to the ones who hold us
around the shoulders as they lay the angles
over each crooked bone, saying, look,
this is what you are the fortunate heirs to.
Praise be to the parade of history; praise be
to those who peel off hay-green squares of it
thin as gold leaf, slowing down time enough
for water to turn to stone and grow moss
as the first crisp of autumn forever folds
a woman’s apron into pleats, then lift the whole
river with its line of women and write on a wall
with a language that is all color: praise,
praise, praise.

Dali’s Angelus

A little bit aggravated, the last couple of days. Part of it is too much running around, not enough sleep/caffeine (I’d prefer both, but even just one will do), part of it is too much work and real life crap, not enough trying to be myself. Why is it that we have to suppress who we are while we try to scrape together enough money, time, and security to enable us to be who we are? I hate that I have to be sitting here at work dealing with bureaucracy and playing the strait-laced worker bee when I’d rather be writing my heart out with a mug of coffee and good vibes at my side. (And I know, this is probably the complaint that people who have been in the workforce for a long time roll their eyes at, but I can’t help feeling it. Particularly today.)

I’m hoping that April won’t be cruel this year, and the deep inhalation of spring that has made itself felt the last week or so finally shouts into the world. Writing! Passion! More writing! That’s what I crave. For now, here is a brief ditty for Margo‘s ekphrastic prompt on Tuesday, keying off Dali’s Angelus painting (which actually has a much longer title) and incorporating a line or two from one of the actual Angelus prayers.

Man, yesterday was Frank O’Hara’s birthday, too, and I missed it.

Dali’s Angelus

Pour forth, we beseech thee, O Lord
the mangled and uncommon things,

those remnants in the middle distance
ringing amber at the end of the day

whose jigsawed edges we try and try
to line up with the holes in our hearts

rushing blood, O Lord, so we can saw
our feet home with a diminished fifth

echoing hollow through our cores,
pour in, pour in, that we may

furl the night into a thin pillow,
a tattered blanket, as we fill with

maybe someone else’s missing piece
but O Lord, at least something’s there.

the refinery: marian veverka

The afternoon is wide open, and despite ungodly winds out in the city today, there is sun and beauty and warmth. I am feeling, for the first time in a while, that I have several constructive things to do that I actually want to do and share, and the time/energy to do them. First and foremost of these is to do another (gasp!) Refinery post, so I don’t forget about doing it for the week. And, to re-iterate what Margo said on her blog: pretend I don’t have a list to work through, and send me stuff still, please! For now, we have:

The Golden Trees” by Marian Veverka

My favorite poems of Marian’s are the ones which are sweeping and elegant; she does better long-form and formal poetry than many other poets I’ve seen on the blogosphere. (Not to say her other work, an example of which has appeared at Curio, is lacking; I just prefer the lengthier, structured poems.) What I’ve seen of her work often touches upon the natural and the personal at the same time, so this poem should not come as a surprise:

Along the roadside’s graveled edge
A row of poplars lift their limbs and spread
Their roots to where secret water hides
In the shallow pools of dried stream-beds.

A thirsty summer, hot and dry
With sudden storms that made green leaves fly
From nervous branches, all shaken down
Beneath the scorching sun in an empty sky.

Today, as the heat-stricken hours fade
Each tree now casts its golden shade
water trickles through the once dried stream
Clouds arrive, but few will stay.

I stand, immersed in the golden glow
Beneath the poplars’ royal row
Through long winter nights I’ll return in dreams
While the poplars sleep in their robes of snow.

It’s rare that the issues I pull out of a poem are balanced carefully between form, style, and theme, but I think this is a case where I find on each, so that’s how I’m going to tackle it:
– Let’s talk about form first. This is very close to/counts as a ruba’i poem, with AABA rhyme scheme stanzas and (usually, in English) an iambic tetra/pentameter rhythm. What I would tweak from a form perspective, because it’s usually the easiest thing to fix in formal verse, is the consistency. There are some playful takes on the scheme with near-rhymes, and the rhythm is flexed at various points. But I think the issue I have with these two aspects is that the experimentation itself doesn’t feel certain. When I read the first stanza, rhyming edge, spread, beds, I think, okay, this will be a poem of not-quite-rhymes. But then I see dry, fly, sky, and I second-guess myself. Then, I notice that hides connects the first stanza to the second as a near-rhyme; and then that link is not repeated from the second to the third; and then the B line in the third and fourth stanzas near-rhyme. Similarly, the syllable count in each line varies a little bit too much for me to tell if it’s supposed to be a particular metre or not. Some tweaking would be good, I think, to make it more clear what the poem is doing: it doesn’t have to be rigid and uniform, but when you bend the parameters of a received form like this, keep it going!
– Now, style. This has a very Frost-y feel to it, in my opinion; Frost used a lot of ruba’i structure, and often had those nature-meditation moments in his poetry. But I would like to see more metaphor, more risks taken in the presentation of the imagery. A caveat: I think that it depends on how you want to approach the theme. If you’re going for a very straightforward snapshot, the literal might be preferable, but as I’ll get to in a moment, I think Marian is digging deeper, especially with that last stanza. There are several words in here that could use some alteration, which might in turn help with the consistency of the metre. Some of these veer close to cliché: scorching sun, for example. (I’m a fan of folk songs that use this phrase, but I think we can do better in modern poetry.) Or shallow pools: what about teaspoon pools or withered pools or something? The words poplar, tree, and golden come up again and again; find synonyms and other characteristics to describe in the subject! You don’t need to be overly florid to find more interesting ways to describe an image. Remember that part of the charm in poetry is to put together two words that haven’t been put together before (or at least, enough).
And as for theme, which might be the hardest nugget to crack, I find myself wondering how personal the poem is trying to be. Most of the piece is a meditation on the appearance of the poplars, but we have all these value words describing the trees and their surroundings that gives it a specifically anti-haiku quality. And then this “I” appearing in the last stanza: we have a poem that shows the polarity between an object and its observer. What I’d like to see is more deepness to this “I”, because once she is introduced, it immediately adds another layer to the poem that isn’t nearly as thick as the rest. The “I” could appear earlier, or the descriptions of nature could even more specifically imply an observer. (A hot summer is impersonal; a thirsty summer, like we have here, requires a presence to give the season personality; an oppressive summer does the same, but adds a relationship between the speaker and the object.) Aside from the relationship needing some intensity, I’m also a little uncertain what the speaker is trying to get across: it seems to be a reflection on the beauty of these trees enduring through the change of seasons and into memory, but I’m not sure. It could use a bit more expansion, perhaps!

OK, enough critique. Let’s go to the other end of the spectrum:
– There are some subtle sound things happening that I like here, some alliteration and internal rhyme (stricken and trickle is a great pair) mixing with just some wonderfully-chosen words (which balance out the examples I was picking out earlier). Probably secret water and royal row sound the most lyrical to me. I don’t think it would be hard to extend that feeling through more of the poem without losing the meter and rhyme that gives it so much of its structure. And I love that sentence Clouds arrive, but few will stay. I might suggest tweaking it a little bit, but it has an elegant simplicity that I think sums up the whole poem.
– Keying off that, the theme is one of those tried-and-true ones I like to talk about. There are countless poems about the transience of nature still being beautiful, probably because it echoes the knowledge of our own mortality. The trap with this theme is risking a hackneyed approach to the theme. I don’t think this one falls into that trap, but only because it hasn’t deepened its own voice enough. If Marian goes back to edit this, and does develop that theme, I would say be careful not to get too clichéd with it: take risks, approach the concept in a way that is rarely explored. That may require lengthening the poem or messing with its structure a little bit, either for space reasons or to create a point using the sound of the poem itself.
– And of course, the challenge of doing a form at all is often to be commended. I used to consider myself a pretty stolid New Formalist, looking for the potential of a sonnet in every prompt, but have, in recent years, headed away from that. It’s always a pleasure to see a received form executed well, without fanfare: this is not as long as Omar Khayyam, nor is it one of those bite-sized forms full of repetition like the kyrielle. It has meat and an idea, I just think that it needs to trust itself more within the confines of its structure to clarify what it wants to say.

A few bits and bobs:
– Some of the enjambment isn’t working for me, particularly and spread / their roots.
– This is a goofy idea, but I would suggest using Monet as inspiration, maybe even wholly considering this an ekphrastic poem. Changing the title to something reflecting Monet (who did painting after painting of poplars) would add a layer of allusion (is the speaker standing in a museum? is the speaker Monet?) and at least remove one instance of each of golden and trees
– …because really, some of that repetition does drag me down.
– If I had to pick one stanza to follow its lead, I’d choose the first one. It’s the most solid, followed by the fourth one.
– Previously, I talked about the use/overuse of adjective + noun pairings, and how variety is good. This could use some variety in the length of descriptive phrases: we have a wall of one adjective + one noun in the middle of the poem.

Marian, I hope this was useful to you, and I hope that you’ll share any revised version of the poem with us! And for all the non-Marians out there (it sounds like I’m picking favorites in some kind of Christian philosophy debate, doesn’t it?), here is a prompt based on the poem to whet your appetites:

Write a poem in a traditional received form (sonnet, sestina, rime royal, whatever) that is at least fourteen lines. Focus on your relationship with a particular object in nature and how it sums up a larger opinion/feeling about Nature with a capital N. Include the words “secret”, “arrive”, and “sudden”. Use only the senses of sight and touch for your descriptions.

Cheers! See you all for the next one…