Shared some of Philip Larkin’s work with students this week. I see him as a good example of playing content rebelliously while within formal structures.
In the poem below, one can see what I mean in these lines about the moon:
Lozenge of love! Medallion of art! O wolves of memory! Immensements!
There’s something beyond mockery going on here. He starts with an exaggerated phrase very much in the style of Renaissance poets (the title refers to a sonnet by Sir Philip Sidney), but by the time one reads “wolves of memory,” there’s a self-deprecating edge apparent to the pronouncements, which is also in keeping with the overall meditation of aging in the poem.
Sad Steps – Philip Larkin
Groping back to bed after a piss
I part thick curtains, and am startled by
The rapid clouds, the moon’s cleanliness.
Four o’clock: wedge-shadowed gardens lie
Under a cavernous, a wind-picked sky.
There’s something laughable about this,
The way the moon dashes through clouds that blow
Loosely as cannon-smoke to stand apart
(Stone-coloured light sharpening the roofs below)
High and preposterous and separate—
Lozenge of love! Medallion of art!
O wolves of memory! Immensements! No,
One shivers slightly, looking up there.
The hardness and the brightness and the plain
Far-reaching singleness of that wide stare
Is a reminder of the strength and pain
Of being young; that it can’t come again,
But is for others undiminished somewhere.
The Arctic moose drinks at the tundra’s edge,
swirling the watercress with his mouth.
How fresh the water is, the coolness of the far North.
A light wind moves through the deep firs.
Reading this week, I came across these two short lyrics by Robert Bly. I love how in the lyric above there is a sound repetition going on: “moose drinks” followed by the sounds of “swirling the watercress” and on into the next line in “fresh” and “coolness” – all of it a subtle surge of sound.
A similar sense of sound governs the poem below, but also with it is a bit of that Deep Image mojo Bly and others helped to perfect. With the aptness and pacing of a great tanka, the lyric goes from a note on nature to a more personal, inner note. The last line leveled me with its directness: after the tension created between the fanciful note on the herons and the speaker’s inner turmoil, the clarity suggested in the last line evokes “another world” indeed.
Herons – Robert Bly
After trailing their bony legs the herons dance
in their crystal house far up near the clouds.
I need you in sand, touching your hand I weep.
In another world I am clear and transparent.
I like reading a poem and finding myself admiring how tangled it is in its words. When done well, it changes Robert Frost’s adage No tears for the poet, no tears for the reader for me into No entanglement for the poet, none for the reader.
The poem below, Ode to the Beekeeper by Ross Gay from his collection Bringing the Shovel Down, is a good example of what I mean. With the subject declared in the title, it’s fun to watch what kind of bee-related words are drawn in (note the tension of the second use of “chamber” towards the end, the tension with “heart” in the same line).
Another thing I noted in rereading was the structure. The poem consists of one really long sentence followed by two short ones. The effect is similar to the staggered flight of a bee as much as the subject’s fascination with them.
Ode to the Beekeeper – Ross Gay for Stephanie Smith
who has taken off her veil
and gloves and whispers to the bees
in their own language, inspecting the comb-thick
frames, blowing just so when one or the other alights
on her, if she doesn’t study it first — the veins
feeding the wings, the deep ochre
shimmy, the singing — just like in the dreams
that brought her here in the first place: dream
of the queen, dream of the brood chamber,
dream of the dessicated world and sifting
with her hands the ash and her hands
ashen when she awoke, dream of honey
in her child’s wound, dream of bees
hived in the heart and each wet chamber
gone gold. Which is why, first,
she put on the veil. And which is why,
too, she took it off.
This poem is a special one for me. I was allowed to go into what the poem means to me in a Q & A accompanying the poem. Here’s what I said regarding the poem:
What inspired to you write about a quinceañera?
The poem had its kernel in memory, which for me is at turns messy and marvelous. My mother gave birth to me when she was fourteen. She left my father a year later. In so many ways, my mother and I grew up alongside one another, surviving. Like most who grow up without, we didn’t know what we didn’t have until much later. One day while explaining about quinceañeras, someone asked if my mother had had one. I realized I had never had that thought, and that, after having me so young as well as leaving a relationship so young, I’m sure she never had the chance to consider it. I felt both startled and guilty as I realized that the struggle begun with my birth continued to that very day when I didn’t have an answer to such a simple question. This is where memory is messy. I found myself writing roughly around this feeling of being startled, of not knowing, until I pushed and saw what I did know. This is where memory is marvelous. I found myself celebrating my mother in the way given me, creating line by line a space where I was able to give something back to her. The line about the “son” dreaming startled me anew when I wrote it because of the permission it granted. It is a memory I wish I had.
Check out the poem and the rest of the Q & A here.
I laughed too hard when I came across this the other day.
There’s been some heavy duty lesson planning going on. Which means summer’s taking a turn.
Before summer’s over, I thought I’d share the Naos poem recently published in Cactus Heart. It’s from the same world as but not in the Naos chapbook published earlier this summer. Special thanks to Sara Rauch for giving it a home.
I promise to be up to my usual hijinxery next week 🙂
Naos Drinking– Jose Angel Araguz
The kind of drunk who smiles to himself.
Who grows more polite with each shot.
His lips: the twist of a rope,
the knot of his Adam’s apple adjusting.
He listens for his life, his death.