Not to burden you too much with my current Marianne Moore infatuation, but as I try to come to grips with just what made Modernism Modernism, I found this passage in the Linda Leavell biography that was amusing:
“Pound and Eliot had both gone on record as admirers of Moore’s poetry in 1918 and Eliot again in 1923. Williams had done so in 1925. And in 1935, with his review of “Selected Poems”, Wallace Stevens added himself to the roster. Eliot and Williams had no taste for each other’s work. Nor did Pound and Stevens. But all four modernists concurred that Moore was, as Stevens put it, “A Poet That Matters.” Whareas to Williams she represented all that was “new” in poetry, to Eliot she was an enduring member of the “tradition.” And whereas Pound praised her early resistance to romanticism, Stevens paid her his highest compliment by calling her a “romantic.” “Unless one is that,” he said, “one is not a poet at all.” Stevens’s review explained more precisely than anyone else had how the elements of her stanza—syllable count, rhyme, and indentation of lines—work to create a sense of rhythm.
“Eliot’s praise for Moore’s highly complex and innovative technique—along with that of Stevens, R.P. Blackmur, and Morton Zabel—made her seem more than ever a poet’s poet. If even F.R. Leavis lacked sufficient intellect to appreciate such technique, was there any hope for the “lovers of poetry,” whose aversion to the “new and genuine” Eliot also disparaged?”
My question? What did F.R. Leavis do to piss off Linda Leavell?
Anyway, we had a fine workshop on Tuesday.
Brendan McEntee‘s poem “Resigned to Ghosts” is named for ghosts but it’s about haunting, and Frank said he loved the cadence in this meditation on loss, which had a lugubrious heaviness, a weariness you could hear right away in the first line: “Being haunted is nothing special.” I loved the way it moved from the expected repositories of sadness—the photos and the cookbooks in “the amassed mess of a parent’s estate” out into the world where he sees the haunting in the frozen food aisle of a supermarket: “in the men shuffling with wrinkled khakis and worn orthotic shoes/ they can’t bother to replace. During the day, it’s the widowers,/ picking through frozen dinners. Subsistence eating. Subsistence living.” What can be more convincingly moving than seeing ones own sadness mirrored and prefigured in the world outside. Crazily powerful stuff.
Preeti Shah was back (Hi Preeti) with a stunningly beautiful and heart rending poem called “Silenced” a compendium of sentences/statements/questions by inmates in a nursing home, everything from innocent requests for favors (“Take me to the café so I can buy a bag of Cheetos”) to indictments (“I hate this fucking place. Everyone is a sadist”) to abject despair (“My kids aren’t getting a cent/ My kids never visit/ My pet died.”). The poem never announces its method; there is no filler. The “speaker” of the poem never speaks; it is all given over to the utterances, which run one into the other, with the effect that the “speaker” of the poem is the whole population of the nursing home, and the poet’s job, done quietly and effectively, is to aggregate these utterances in ways that let their power build. Ultimately, you look back at the title, “Silenced” and ask yourself who was silenced? The elderly shut up where no one will hear them or the poet who heard and recorded what they said. I’ll shut up now. Just read it, and bring tissues.
Shane Wagner brought “Sound Sympathy” that takes place during a sonogram visit to the radiologist but is actually about the relationship between the patient and the technician performing the sonogram who is not permitted to tell the patient knows whether she sees blood clots, but finds a way to calm the patient’s anxiety without technically violating the prohibition on giving medical advice. Nicely done.
Tom Benediktsson‘s poem, “Supercuts” turns a trip to the barber into a flashback to the Bible story of Samson and Delilah.
Don Zirilli, perhaps inspired by my recent discussions of Miss Marianne Moore, brought “The Imaginary Gardener Kisses a Real Toad,” a continuation of Moore’s famous statement beginning her poem “Poetry,” “I, too, dislike it.”
Frank Rubino moved into a shorter form for his poem this week, “I wait for a song” that plays on the phrase “lucky strike” which is both a hope for success in life (“wait all my life for a lucky strike.”) and a cigarette name (taking him into a family history of brand preferences among his relatives). This yoking together of destinies could have been sterile, but in the last movement of this short poem, you feel the still inchoate yearning for the “more” that life desires: “& if you could strip off/ my leather jacket I wear,/ you’d find hair, and flesh, and luck—/ the good luck or the bad luck of only a man.” (I particularly loved the double possessive of “my leather jacket I wear”—which is awkward but emphatic).
Rob Goldstein and I both brought poems with Yiddish phrases stuck inside. His, “History is a Bucket of Musky Fear” is an abstracted dreamscape that illuminates its titular point with little bits of evidence from different sources: the January 6 attack on the Capitol and the fate of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany whose ships were turned away in many ports. His Yiddism? “goylemat maydlekh” (robot girls).
My poem, “Oh dear, Zev” was, as Don pointed out, an exhortation. It urged a guy named Zev to fall in love, told him there’s still time to go for the gusto, and told him that his friends would be there for him if he “fell” and couldn’t get up. My Yiddism? “cheder bucher” – or a boy who goes to religious school.
Janet K brought back her villanelle from last week, now called “Faded Tattoos” (not in the packet) back with many subtle improvements that made its consideration of stasis much more powerful.
Carole Stone brought a poem called “Why Do the Men Die First,” a continued exploration of grief, and maybe part of the grand elegy that Carole has been writing on the loss of a spouse. Tom Benediktsson pointed out that, in this poem made of couplets, the first line of each couplet was end-stopped while the second line of each couplet was enjambed to the first line of the succeeding couplet. That arrangement gives the reader a doubled sense of meaning, looking back to the previous line for sense momentarily as the couplet ends, but then seeing the first line of the next couplet as a confirmation that the poem has moved on. It’s an interesting technique, worth remembering.
On Sunday at 4:30 pm, I’ll be attending the Zoom graduation ceremony from the Brooklyn Poets Mentorship Program which has occupied all of 2021 for me. It’ll be the twelve of us being introduced by Jay Deshpande our fearless mentor, and reading a poem or two. It’ll be done by 5:30. You’re all welcome to attend. The event is free and open to the public, but all guests need to register to get the Zoom link: https://bit.ly/bpmpgrad. Like all good graduations, afterwards we’ll be going to Juniors for cheesecake.