Field Notes, Week of 04-26-22

Arthur Russell‘s recap of The Red Wheelbarrow Poets’ Workshop of April 26, 2022

The experimentation was busting out all over at last night’s RWB workshop.

Yana Kane Esrig brought a poem called “Train and its dreamer” that investigated the hypnopompic moment between sleep and waking when dreams and outer stimuli mix. For Yana, the image of a train whose sound “quilts the still air” nicely matches quilt as a sleep tool with quilt as a quality of the sound. Carole thought Yana could have pursued the dream even more than the poem did with its fragmentary references to “stations, timetables, tickets… “  Maybe so.  Maybe we’ll see it again.

Carole Stone’s poem “Holi” takes place in a liquor store where the speaker goes (and has gone before) for a bottle of sauterne; the manager wears a Bindi on his forehead, which stimulates a daydream that starts out celebrating colors and life, but then retreats to a despairing “All these years, darkness, darkness.” It’s a powerful setup, that ends with a return to the matter at hand, the bottle which the manager opens for the speaker: “He always does” she concludes, revealing a weakness of hand strength that somehow suffuses the poem with sadness.

We all know from Shakespeare and Cyrano de Bergerac that insults make entertaining poetry when their disdain is delivered with cleverness. New workshopper, Howard Posnitz, entered that arena with a putdown poem directed at someone who had given the speaker a “Dirty Look.”  “Faucet nose, dripping snot,/ Call Joe the plumber for a new nose,” the poem very nearly began, and continued cursing and insulting the dirty look giver, sometimes with zip—“I wouldn’t steal your face even if I were a kleptomaniac”—and other times without: “You must be the ugliest man in New York.” Howard’s task was even more challenging because he was writing a rebuff to someone who hadn’t said anything, or done more than stretch their face muscles. 

My poem, “I Don’t Know Why Loving You is Like Sun” is 14 lines long with two stanzas, one of eight iambic pentameter lines and one of six iambic pentameter lines. The first stanza protests that the speaker doesn’t know why the shenanigans and acrobatics of a squirrel stealing sunflower seeds from a birdfeeder is like the love they feel for their beloved. The second stanza suggests that living without the ambivalence that “dogged” his other relationships, may be the thing that that love and marauding squirrels have in common. In that sense, the poem it recalls Nasim Hikmet’s “On Living” which begins: “Living is no laughing matter:/you must live with great seriousness/like a squirrel, for example—/   I mean without looking for something beyond and above living,/I mean living must be your whole occupation.” Brendan saw the poem “in conversation” with sonnets of the past.

Don Zirilli brought a poem—“Twitter Censored”— that picked up where Janet Kolstein’s poem from last week—quoting sets of comments from a facebook page—left off.  Don went to Twitter to show how even more wildly than Facebook, Twitter comments ran. The subject was more or less Farah Fawsett, but that didn’t stop it from talking about Faberge soap, the Connecticut Huskies basketball team, personal finances and the use of the word “posters” to describe scientific demonstrations. If, as WCW said (though not first) a poem is a machine made of words, and if, as Matt Zapruder added: “a machine made of words to induce in the reader a poetic state of mind,” then Twittor Censored did that work because one floated along on a wash of words that dared to recreate the vibe of an atom with indeterminate electrons ponging about. I loved it.

Janet’s poem, not included here, “Under the Tent”) was about going to a graduation party where a magician had been hired to entertain, and finding that the only utterly amazing trick was the trick of watching the young grow up before your very eyes. How’d they do that?

Don’t forget we’ve got the Google drive working now, so you can post your poems the day (or days) before the workshop, and read the other poems so you have a chance to read them first.  We’ll still take poems uploaded to the chat, but the new way could really spark things. 

And don’t forget that May 4 at the RWB reading—in person at Felician College! (see the flyer)—features Morgan Boyle and Preeti Shah, both Brooklyn Poets Poem of the Month Winners this year, and Pretti’s winner was workshopped in our workshop.

See you all soon.

—Arthur Russell

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