One of my favorite poets this year has been Mark Strand. I have put up some excerpts from his poems which I read and enjoyed but to capture the essence of what his poetry means to me, I am going to use* something he wrote (as quoted in this article by Edward Byrne):
“ … it’s not that poetry reveals more about the world — it doesn’t — but it reveals more about our interactions with the world than our other modes of expression. And it doesn’t reveal more about ourselves alone in isolation, but rather it reveals that mix of self and other, self and surrounding, where the world ends and we begin, where we end and the world begins. ”
Elsewhere (in the Introduction to the Best American Poetry, 1991), Mark Strand also said this about poetry:
The way poetry has of settling our internal house in order, of formalizing emotion difficult to articulate, is one of the reasons we still depend on it in moments of crisis and during those times when it is important that we know, in so many words, what we are going through. ... Without poetry, we would have either silence or banality, the former leaving us to our own inadequate devices for experiencing illumination, the latter cheapening with generalization what we wished to have for ourselves alone, turning our experience into impoverishment, our sense of ourselves into embarrassment.
--
* I could never articulate what poetry has meant to me (especially in the last 2-3 years) in any meaningful way and so I have to lean on these giants of poetry to speak for me! 

This is just plain wrong!

Dogs attend a special 3D screening of the new Warner Bros film, Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore at the Empire Cinema in Leicester Square
Dogs attend a special 3D screening of the new Warner Bros film, Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore at the Empire Cinema in Leicester Square - Source.

And what can I say about this! 

Dogs, wearing hats and sunglasses, are used by their owner to beg for coins in Manila
Dogs, wearing hats and sunglasses, are used by their owner to beg for coins in Manila - Source

That airy dream of the future

on July 21, 2010 with 0 comments » |

My Facebook update today read: "Be seated, thou. Be seated."

It is cryptic and almost meaningless without the context, isn't it? It is a reference to the last line of a Wallace Stevens poem, titled 'Mozart, 1935'.

Here is the relevant excerpt:
"That airy dream of the future,
The unclouded concerto . . .
The snow is falling.
Strike the piercing chord.
Be thou the voice,
Not you. Be thou, be thou
The voice of angry fear,
The voice of this besieging pain.
Be thou that wintry sound
As of the great wind howling,
By which sorrow is released,
Dismissed, absolved
In a starry placating.
We may return to Mozart.
He was young, and we, we are old.
The snow is falling
And the streets are full of cries.
Be seated, thou."
I should admit that I would never have understood the poem as I now do if I had not read what this lovely blog post elucidates!
"The present must pass, and what is created remains. It is not the second coming of Christ that will comfort and save the masses in this poem; it is Mozart. It is the power of expression and the imagination that can reflect the present and offer absolution and the release of sorrow. We need to save ourselves, by force of the imagination and the transformation of what we experience into something that will survive to relate the experience to humanity as it gets older. Thus, the young Mozart still comforts and offers something to us, grown old and weary from war, economic depression, personal tragedy, and the inevitability that it will all happen again."
Alan Perlis goes further in explaining this poem in his book, Wallace Stevens: A World of Transforming Shapes):
As he does in so many poems, Stevens uses a contrived character to talk about himself as poet. The poet's song, which is a pastiche of many of the composer's songs, reminds us of our mortality by stripping away the feelings that enable us to avoid it. Each circle takes a turn inward until the poem reaches its center - the place from which no one can turn.

The feeling of death, which is a nearly constant presence in Stevens's poems, evokes two accompanying feelings, each usually expressed in circular patterns: terror and emptiness. The first is a dominant force in "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" and the prevailing force in "Domination of Black," a poem in which the eerie presences of night circulate and confound in the memory.
I could go on but I suggest you read more at the book (I got a copy from the local public library but it is available to read in great part via Google Books).

Stevens remains a poet whose poetry I find difficult to understand but still find amazing to just read over and over. There is a certain music in the arrangement of words that is alluring even when I do not understand it completely. You get the feeling he is saying something important - which you know is true but teases you by being on the fringes of your understanding. I should add that,
with the help of critics like  Perilis, Bloom, Vendler, and others, I am beginning to really understand the depth of many of his poems. But his oeuvre is so vast and his poetry has been analyzed so much, with various critics having explored so many different themes in each of his poems, that one wonders if one will ever completely "get" his poetry. And so I keep coming back to it every few months and re-reading the same poems and reading more and more about them, again and again, in a circular pattern of understanding and not understanding.

---
"Poetry, then, is the only possible heaven. It must necessarily be the poetry of ourselves; its source is in our imagination.” - Wallace Stevens

The giant is there, nevertheless

on July 20, 2010 with 0 comments »

Found this lovely excerpt in a lecture given by Helen Vendler titled, "The Ocean, the Bird, and the Scholar" - the Jefferson Lecture, 2004. (The Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, established by the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1972, is the highest honor the federal government confers for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities.)
I thought, on the train, how utterly we have forsaken the Earth, in the sense of excluding it from our thoughts. There are but few who consider its physical hugeness, its rough enormity. It is still a disparate monstrosity, full of solitudes & barrens & wilds. It still dwarfs & terrifies & crushes. The rivers still roar, the mountains still crash, the winds still shatter. Man is an affair of cities. His gardens & orchards & fields are mere scrapings. Somehow, however, he has managed to shut out the face of the giant from his windows. But the giant is there, nevertheless. - Wallace Stevens (Souvenirs and Prophecies, ed. Holly Stevens (New York: Knopf, 1977), note of April 18, 1904, p. 134)

The beauty and awfulnes of the filiation

on July 19, 2010 with 0 comments »

Reading Donald Justice's New and Selected Poems, I stopped at the poem "Sonatina in Yellow" and re-read it a few times. Something about it captured me and made me want to get deeper and understand it better.

The pages of the album,
As they are turned, turn yellow; a word,
Once spoken, obsolete,
No longer what was meant. Say it.
The meanings come, or come back later,
Unobtrusive, taking their places.

….

Forgotten sunlight still
Blinds the eyes of faces in the album.
The faces fade, and there is only
A sort of meaning that comes back,
Or for the first time comes, but comes too late
To take the places of the faces
Luckily, via Google Books, I found a paragraph in Dana Gioia & William Logan's "Certain Solitudes - On the poetry of Donald Justice", which elucidates the essence of this poem better:
The dead belong here, because our relation with them must be circular. They have prepared us for their place, and we have taken it. The hushed tone that marks Justice's voice mounts to reverence as he evokes his relation to his father in "Sonatina in Yellow." Here, the ambiguities, continuities, and repetitions move parallel to memory and forgetfulness, in a sequence impressively like a musical modulation. Love for the dead suggests love for the past, the poet's desire to keep with him the beauty and awfulnes of the filiation that he will hand on in his turn; and the imagination then seems our one genuine weapon against mortality.
Indeed! Reality bites but the imagination lets us fight back. Like Wallace Stevens said, "The imagination is man's power over nature."




"...much of the world of fact is the equivalent of the world of the imagination because it looks like it. Here we are on the border of the question of the relationship between the imagination and memory, which we avoid. It is important to believe that the visible is the equivalent of the invisible." - Wallace Stevens (The Figure of the Youth as Virile Poet)

Lovely snippet from an interview with John Ashbery:
John Ashbery: I don't know what my life is, what I want to be escaping from. I want to move to some other space, I guess, when I write, which perhaps was where I had been but without being fully conscious of it. I want to move in and out of it, while I'm writing.
Sue Gangel: Take a journey?
JA: Yeah, but also realize, more, where I am.

Source: Interview with Sue Gangel. "An Interview with John Ashbery" (originally printed in the San Francisco Review of Books [November 1977], rep. in Joe David Bellamy, Ed. American Poetry Observed: Poets On Their Work (Urbana: U Illinois P, 1984), 14.


Which son could have said it better... this sonnet captures everything I have felt in the last 2 years so perfectlyl the difference being I have not been able to put into words...


Sonnet to My Father
 - Donald Justice


Father, since always now the death is come
Looks naked out from your eyes into mine,
Almost it seems the death to come is mine
And that I also shall be overcome,
Father, and call for breath when you succumb,
And struggle for your hand as you for mine
In hope of comfort that shall not be mine
Till for the last of me the angel come.
But, father, though with you in part I die
And glimpse beforehand that eternal place
Where we forget the pain that brought us here,
Father, and though you go before me there,
leaving this likeness only in your place,
Yet while I live, you do not wholly die.

And all the voices silent

on July 16, 2010 with 0 comments » |

Coinciding with W. S. Merwin being appointed poet laureate of the US for 2010-11, I started reading some of his poetry - starting with The Shadows of Sirius, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2009 and also have his National Book Award winning 'Migration: New and Selected Poems' (a book I had perused through some years back) by my nightstand.

But before I get into the poems, I am really enjoying reading his interview with Bill Moyers shortly after winning the Pulitzer in 2009. I think reading poetry book reviews and also interviews like this greatly enhances the reading of the poetry itself. For example, I read and enjoyed the poem "Still Morning" from The Shadows of Sirius. But I wondered what the "patch of sunlight" was about. And then I found that Moyers and Merwin talk about it. Read this excerpt below, which also includes the poem in its entirety.

BILL MOYERS: So, what about this poem in your new book? "Still Morning."
W.S. MERWIN:

It appears now that there is only one
age and it knows
nothing of age as the flying birds know
nothing of the air they are flying through
or of the day that bears them up
through themselves
and I am a child before there are words
arms are holding me up in a shadow
voices murmur in a shadow
as I watch one patch of sunlight moving
across the green carpet
in a building
gone long ago and all the voices
silent and each word they said in that time
silent now
while I go on seeing that patch of sunlight
BILL MOYERS: That patch of sunlight. Where was it?
W.S. MERWIN: Actually it was in the church in Union City, New Jersey which has been torn down many, many years ago.
BILL MOYERS: Your father's church?
W.S. MERWIN: And I was being held up. And may even have been when I was baptized, you know? Very, very early. I can remember it. I remember the man in a brown suit, who was holding me. And I said this to once to my mother. And she said, "You can't possibly remember something back that far." And I said, "Who was the man in the brown suit, who was holding me? I never saw him again." And she said, "Oh, yes. That was Reverend so and so. And he came for a visit. And he said he would hold you for the ceremony." And I never saw him again. But I remember being held up and watching the green carpet and that patch of sunlight.
BILL MOYERS: You did grow up right across the river in Metro New York, New Jersey, looking out on the skyline of New York.
W.S. MERWIN: Which was silent.
BILL MOYERS: Silent?
W.S. MERWIN: Yeah. New York was silent. That was extraordinary. And that still, to me, is haunting. You know, to be able to think of that skyline that I saw as a child. And you could hear sounds from the river. There was a river traffic, which is gone, most of which is gone. The ferries back and forth, all the time. And ferrying of whole trains went across on ferries, you know, on barges. And I would spend as much time as I could in the back of the church looking down on Hoboken Harbor and on the river and on the city over there. And the city was absolutely silent. Then, of course, you took the ferry over there all the noise of New York was there. And I found that very exciting.
Also, I wondered what The Shadows of Sirius meant... here's an excerpt from the interview where Merwin so beautifully explains what it is about.
Moyers asks: Now, Sirius is the dog star, the most luminous star in the sky, twenty-five times more luminous than the sun. And yet, you write about it's shadow. Something that no one has never seen. Something that's invisible to us. Help me to understand that.

Merwin replies: That's the point. The shadow of Sirius is pure metaphor, pure imagination. But we live in it all the time. We are the shadow of Sirius. There is the other side of-- as we talk to each other, we see the light, and we see these faces, but we know that behind that, there's the other side, which we never know. And that — it's the dark, the unknown side that guides us, and that is part of our lives all the time. It's the mystery. That's always with us, too. And it gives the depth and dimension to the rest of it.
WOW! 

More about Merwin and his poems later.

Interesting articles

on July 15, 2010 with 0 comments » |

1) Interesting article..do read when you have time. Is about sports but also goes beyond that...in some ways! Could say that about movies etc too!

2) Havent read this yet ... skipped thru first and last para of it only so far..but seems like an interesting article too.

3) Never drank coffee till 2003-2004 but now I need to have a cup of coffee every morning and often am tempted around 3pm or so to have a coke too!

What caffeine actually does to your brain.
4) A Scientist Takes On Gravity: What if gravity is all an illusion, a sort of cosmic frill, or a side effect of something else going on at deeper levels of reality?


5)
How Microbes Defend and Define Us - Sounds ewww...but read about the interesting case of "bacteriotherapy or fecal transplantation"!