* pennies, memory, & the friday influence

Brown Penny – WB Yeats

I whispered, ‘I am too young,’
And then, ‘I am old enough’;
Wherefore I threw a penny
To find out if I might love.
‘Go and love, go and love, young man,
If the lady be young and fair.’
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
I am looped in the loops of her hair.

O love is the crooked thing,
There is nobody wise enough
To find out all that is in it,
For he would be thinking of love
Till the stars had run away
And the shadows eaten the moon.
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
One cannot begin it too soon.

***

Today’s Friday Influence focuses on this lyric by WB Yeats.

I was introduced to this poem when talking randomly with a stranger in a bookstore.  We went back and forth about poets we had read.  Suddenly the name Yeats came up and the young man began reciting this poem from memory.  I walked away from that encounter eager to memorize the poem myself.

This was years ago.  I have since memorized around thirty poems.  Memorizing a poem, according to Galway Kinnell, is a way to own a poem, to have it be a part of your other memories.

I have a system: I write out a line longhand and then close my eyes, reading the words off the back of my eyes, reciting them to myself.  When I feel I have it, I write out the next line and then go over the two lines so far and then continue until I have the whole poem down.

This process is insightful in that it slows you down in your reading to the point that you begin to see the relation of each individual word and phrase to the others.  For example, the last line of the first stanza with its looped in the loops of her hair hands up an image that leads into the O love is the crooked thing – not only is there the declarative O that mimics the hair loops visually but there is the tension between the physical and emotional hinted at slyly here.

***

Since we are now in the time of Gemini, the twins, I thought I would have this first post feature a twin of the Yeats poem.  Below is my tribute/imitation of ‘Brown Penny’ inspired by events in my little brother’s life when he was fifteen:

Lupito

— with apologies to Yeats

I whispered he is too young
And then he is old enough
Wherefore I called my brother
To ask if he was in love.
He’s in love, he’s in love, mom said,
And for my feelings he doesn’t care.
Ah, lupito, lupito, lupito
You’ll get pulled to your room by your hair.

O blood is the crooked thing
I will never be wise enough
To know what I did or didn’t
To put me so distant from love —
It feels like the stars have run away
And shadows eaten the moon;
Ah, lupito, lupito, lupito
Don’t forget your brother too soon.

***

Happy pennying!

J

* the friday influence & some news

What Any Lover Learns – Archibald MacLeish

Water is heavy silver over stone.
Water is heavy silver over stone’s
Refusal. It does not fall. It fills. It flows
Every crevice, every fault of the stone,
Every hollow. River does not run.
River presses its heavy silver self
Down into stone, and stone refuses.

What runs,
Swirling and leaping into sun, is stone’s
Refusal of the river, not the river.

***

This week’s Friday Influence focuses on this lovely poem by Archibald MacLeish.

What moves me most about this poem is the great use of enjambment and punctuation to create a sense of the poem’s meaning.  The poem is only ten lines long but covers eight sentences within them.  The start and stop motion of the words play out the tension described in the poem.

Repetition is key as well.  These words in particular: heavy, silver, river keep up a certain strike and pressure between teeth and lip which repeats when the poem is read aloud.

I’m a geek.  I look for this kind of stuff.

The poem also charms with its parable-like structure.  The title leads you in expecting one thing but then you are handed an image, an evocation of tension and loss all in the words.

Small lyric poems are like that: like watching a bug on its back kicking its legs around, that whirred moment when each leg registers to your vision.

***

In other news, it looks like me and mine will be headed back up to Eugene Oregon at the end of the month.  The move is a positive one.  We’re gonna go pull those clouds over us and dream it all up again.

I’ll let you know what that means as I find out.

The Friday Influence will continue regardless.

Happy dreaming!

J

* Jack Gilbert, unfortunate cats, & the friday influence

Married – Jack Gilbert

I came back from the funeral and crawled
around the apartment, crying hard,
searching for my wife’s hair.
For two months got them from the drain,
from the vacuum cleaner, under the refrigerator,
and off the clothes in the closet.
But after other Japanese women came,
there was no way to be sure which were
hers, and I stopped. A year later,
repotting Michiko’s avocado, I find
a long black hair tangled in the dirt.

***

For today’s friday influence I present the above poem by Taurus poet Jack Gilbert.

The marvel of this poem is how it has no outright metaphor or simile but rather builds a metaphor out of the details of the life lived, the idea of being ‘married’ made up of peopletangledin the dirt.

To give you an idea of the metaphor-making mind of Jack Gilbert: in a workshop, he spoke once of how workshopping a poem can be like dropping a dead cat on the table.  You can say whatever you want of it, it’s still a dead cat.  You want a live cat.  Damn it.

(the ‘damn it’ is, admittedly, my own)

***

On the road at the moment.  The reading went great.  Mas later.

Happy tangling,

J

Alan Berecka, dichotomy, and a change

My brother-in-law tells me

often, poems once rhymed.

(from The Evolving Case for De-evolution)

***

The above lines are from the book Remembering the Body (Mongrel Empire Press) by poet Alan Berecka.  The book, as hinted by these lines, takes on the preconceived notions of both poetry and life.

Dichotomy is the name of the game.  In “The Priestly Poet”, Berecka writes of “Father Gerard” and “the poet Hopkins”, taking on the split Gerard Manley Hopkins must have faced in his life as poet Jesuit priest, the tension of believing in both The Word and in words.  It is a dichotomy Berecka himself wrestles with in other poems.

Hopkins comes up again in “Throwing the Morning News” where he talks of delivering papers at 3 a.m. and how:

“In this darkness I turned from Nightingale

on to Kingfisher when my lights beaming

low, caught two blocks of taillights, grills,

bumpers, reflectors, hydrant markers,

and stray cats’ eyes.  Jewels of light —

the spectrum given light — danced,

filling empty space.  The creation

stunned me and I stopped

but not for long.”

There is a part of my youth that is forever awake at 3 a.m. on my way to work.  I know the world of early hours.  When one is moved to speak about them, it is not for long.

***

Berecka writes the kind of narrative poems that are a joy to read, real life leading to real moments of lift in words.

Back to dichotomy.  Berecka is a poet’s poet, praising those who have influenced him, and defending the art as diplomatically as possible.

In the poem below, he is able to hold an argument against pure imagist thinking while sneaking in imagery into his narrative to take the poem into that higher level of lyric revelation the whole poem, and whole book, argue for.

This kind of thing is slick in all the good ways.  Like a trick shot at a pool hall, you can’t help but applaud.

In Defense of the Narrative

for Rick Sale

Slipping past the desk, at times

he would stand in our beer-filled places,

a welcomed guest – a fugitive

from ordered space.  He volunteered

for battle in our war and fought

well at my side that one night

when two imagists argued that good

poetry did not tell a story but created

visions that intrigued more than meant.

They held their own through the first

few downed pitchers, but when we moved

to the pinball machine to defend our

Miss Bishop, we humbled them.

With each shot they evoked Pound,

swore in Chinese and sweated

faces in the Station Metro,

but how could they win,

piling up the bells and flashes,

not the points, not knowing the trick

to scoring well was putting

the shots together to clean a rack,

earning the bonus, ignoring

the lights and playing the game.

***

Happy playing!

J

***

p.s.  So after much deliberation, the name of this blog will be officially changed this week to: The Friday Influence.  Those familiar will know that this is a reference to my Friday posts.  I will still post about various thoughts or books read, and always focused on the lyric poem for its intensity and ability to charge words with life and charge life with words.   The change is aimed at achieving a focus for the blog and to keep people from having to type up my ostentatiously long, very Mexican name.

Also, The Friday Influence sounds like a totally cool hipster band name: you know, obscure, underground.  You probably haven’t heard of them.

* nerve, context, & the friday influence

The Red Poppy – Louise Gluck

The great thing

is not having

a mind.  Feelings:

oh, I have those; they

govern me.  I have

a lord in heaven

called the sun, and open

for him, showing him

the fire of my own heart, fire

like his presence.

What could such glory be

if not a heart?  Oh my brothers and sisters,

were you like me once, long ago,

before you were human?  Did you

permit yourselves

to open once, who would never

open again?  Because in truth

I am speaking now

the way you do.  I speak

because I am shattered.

 

***

The above poem is by Taurus and former Poet Laureate Louise Gluck.

The book where this poem comes from, The Wild Iris, changed the way I approached poems.  In the book, Gluck uses flowers as well as the metaphor of gardening to conduct a meditation/conversation with God.  Heady stuff.  But done with such lyrical directness and power that you can’t help but yearn and ache as you read.

I’m also a sucker for questions that hit like a thunderbolt: the poppy above knows a few of them.  The way Gluck pulls off such questions is through nerve and context.  In one of her essays in Proofs & Theories, Gluck talks about how she believes in the power of context.  Using the red poppy as context, the poet is able to have us bend our heads down to a flower and listen to what it could say about us.

***

Happy questioning!

J