Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Just in time for finals....

Just in case any of you were feeling too happy, here's an Emily Dickenson poem. It really just speaks for itself. 

I heard a fly buzz when I died;
      The stillness round my form
Was like the stillness in the air
      Between the heaves of storm.

The eyes beside had wrung them dry,
      And breaths were gathering sure
For that last onset, when the king
      Be witnessed in his power.

I willed my keepsakes, signed away
      What portion of me I
Could make assignable,-and then
      There interposed a fly,

With blue, uncertain, stumbling buzz,
      Between the light and me;
And then the windows failed, and then
      I could not see to see.

Friday, December 7, 2012

New Poet Laureate...

Browsing The Poetry Foundation today, I discovered that we have a new poet laureate. And, she is LA's first poet laureate. Congratulations, LA! Congratulations, Eloise Klein Healy! So, for your reading fancy, I provide below a couple examples of her poetry. 

Asking About You

Instead of having sex all the time I like to hold you and not get into some involved discussion of what life means. I want you to tell me something I don't know about you. Something about the day before that photograph in which you're standing on your head. I want to know about softball and the team picture. Why are you so little next to the others? Were you younger? Were you small as a girl? What I want most is to have been a girl with you and played on the opposite team so I could have liked you and competed against you at the same time. 

[I guess part of being poet laureate means expressing l'esprit du temps. And, the angst Healy describes in the above poem seems to express well the difficulty of relationships that our hyper-sexualized culture has created for many of us. As sex ceases to be an expression of intimacy, it is less desirable to those who long for intimacy. Our brash confessionalism, whether it be in our brazen attitude towards sexuality or our desire to flaunt our lives and opinions on social networks, seems to have crushed much of our capacity for tenderness and intimacy. I only hope, for Ms. Healy's sake, that this poem is not actually about her life.
Content aside, the poem does little to inspire. To begin with, prose poetry is a dangerous road to go down. It is too easy to slip into writing a journal entry and calling it a poem. This poem lacks the lyricism and sensory power [i.e. the ability to convey convincingly sensory impressions] that are necessary to call a poem a poem. Furthermore, it is so lost in the narrator's experience that it forgets about the human experience, which should be at the bottom of every poem. For, why should your reader be obliged to read your work, unless it can move them or teach them? The author, not the reader, has an obligation to make his work worthwhile. I fear that this poem lays too much of the onus of appreciation upon the reader....]

Living Here Now

My father's dying
resembles nothing so much
as a small village
building itself
in the mind of a traveler
who reads about it
and thinks to go there.

The journey is imagined
in a way not even felt
as when years ago
I knew my father would die someday.

The idea came up as fast
as a curve in the road
which opens out
to an unexpected vista,

and now in this journey
the road gravel crunches
under my tires. I miss
some of the streets,
get lost, get lost. 

I find I'm no tourist anymore
and settle into the oldest human assignment.
Bury your father and live forever
as a stranger in that town. 

[This poem is, altogether, more interesting than the first. It conveys the sadness and complacency of loss. What can one do in the face of death? It leaves us feeling lost and quietly submissive, much like the rhythm of the poem. And, the image of the road and of travel is compelling, especially in regards to the theme of mortality. The final couplet "Bury your father and live forever / as a stranger in that town" lend a universality to the poem. What have we been doing but burying our fathers and continuing for all these millennia?
And yet, the metaphor of the road has become not a little hackneyed over the years. The images, while descriptive, are a bit trite (we're all travelers... ah yes, I forgot.). And again, I feel the weight of appreciation dumped at my feet. Ms. Healy gives one no reason to want her poetry, except the sense of artistic guilt one feels when one does not appreciate something appreciated by the "wise."]

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Time Does Not Bring Relief: You All Have Lied

In Horace's ode 1.24, he reminds Vergil that all things pass with time, even grief. This seems to be a universally parroted maxim, yet Edna St. Vincent Millay boldly denies this in her poem for which this post is titled: 

Time does not bring relief: you all have lied
Who told me time would ease me of my pain!
I miss him in the weeping of the rain;
I want him at the shrinking of the tide;
The old snows melt from every mountain-side,
And last year's leaves are smoke in every lane;
But last year's bitter loving must remain
Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide. 
There are a hundred places where I fear
To go,--so with his memory they brim.
And entering with relief some quiet place
Where never fell his foot or shone his face
I say, "There is no memory of him here!"
And so stand stricken, so remembering him.

Reading the poem, one wonders whether time may really bring relief. Perhaps, Edna didn't wait long enough, perhaps Vergil kept waiting and lamenting his dear Quintilius 'til he himself was lamented. The wound may cease to hurt, but the scar remains. Do we moderns, perhaps, in our hubris and quick escapes from suffering expect that emotional suffering should be the same as physical suffering? Short and without trace.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Neither Out Far Nor In Deep

Studying at a liberal arts institution, you hear a lot about Truth, which is, of course, a wonderful thing to hear about. Apollinian order, the sun's brightness, the aetherial strokes of the divine lyre. But, sometimes, in our "depth" and "understanding," we need to be reminded how shallow our perception is, how un-fathom-able are the depths of truth. To do this, I quote in entirety Frost's lovely poem, "Neither Out Far Nor In Deep"

The people along the sand 
All turn and look one way.
They turn their back on the land.
They look at the sea all day.

As long as it takes to pass
A ship keeps raising its hull;
The wetter ground like glass
Reflects a standing gull.

The land may vary more;
But wherever the truth may be--
The water comes ashore,
And the people look at the sea.

They cannot look out far.
They cannot look in deep.
But when was that ever a bar
To any watch they keep?

In his ineffable tenderness for the human experience, Frost gently reminds us of our limitations but encourages us to look all the same.