Field Notes, Week of 05-31-22

Arthur Russell‘s recap of The Red Wheelbarrow Poets’ Workshop of May 31, 2022

Robert Hass’s famous poem “Meditation at Lagunitas” begins

“All the new thinking is about loss.
In this it resembles all the old thinking.”

The poems this week seem to confirm that sentiment. 

Near the start of Brendan McEntee’s elegiac “May 25th, 2022,” we hear the weary recitation of the mortal tally from the familiar horror of the mass shooting of schoolchildren and their teachers in Uvalde, TX: “This time a Texas school.  Nineteen children, two teachers./ Shooter dead at the scene…” Like all good elegy and also like a post-traumatic flashback, the poem veers to remembering other, nearer deaths and their anniversaries—of the speaker’s wife and his dead wife’s sister, and then to the public violence, of George Floyd’s (remembered by his last words) and Sandy Hook before telling us that the speaker surrendered his own gun to his brother to remove the temptation to commit suicide. Death speaks to death in the mind of the speaker, but life speaks to death in the poem; through anniversaries and how they occur on “a beautiful day in late May,” as neighbors wave to one another, and discuss the news, including another recent shooting in which a local girl lost an eye, and another threat of violence closer to home. This sidewalk conversation among neighbors becomes the place where words become the coinage of condolence:  “We talk of Texas,/pass the words between us/ courage, outrage, rampage, harrowing.” And for me, this is the poem’s apex: grief coming to rest in words that cannot contain it, words that also seem to mock the media and the politicians who use them to avoid doing anything about the mass shootings that have become a regular part of our lives.

Like Brendan’s poem, Shane Wagner’s poem “Apocalypse” addresses situation at the heart of the Uvalde murders: a man puts his child on a school bus and “She isn’t coming home.” 

Carole Stone’s “Wedding Band” addresses loss differently. The seashells on a local beach remind the speaker of diamond chips on her mother’s wedding band, which she now wears.

Yana Kane brought a rewrite of “Hive Hymn” her “concrete” poem (in something like the shape of a beehive) that ask us to “sing a hymn” to the industriousness and energy of bees and ends with a prayer that we (or the flowers we love) may be worthy of their attention. With that prayer for worthiness, the poem reveals, without directly acknowledging, an underlying environmental concern.

Like Yana’s “Hymn Hive,” Frank Rubino’s poem, “Woods Outside Chicago” ends with a prayer: “Dear corporations, please refund & erase me from your databases./ Dear church, please acknowledge your lies.” And as Brendan’s poem finds its physical space in a street meeting of neighbor’s, Frank’s poem lives in the context of a group of friends on a day trip of some sort, in the titular “woods” or on a “boat ride.” It’s a poem in which city folk go out into the country and think big thoughts; here, the thoughts revolve around creativity, freedom and “naming”; the friends have archetypical names (“the Master Printer,” “the Poet,” and “a Serious Painter”). Even the campfire has a name: “The Snappy Fire.” And somehow that may not yet be apparent, the bucolic setting the freedom it inspires leads the poem to its prayer to be free of corporate databases and for the world to be freed from the tyranny of church lies.

Susanna Lee’s “Where I’m From, Politically” is a rewrite that tells a family anecdote about kindness to one’s enemies during trench warfare.  

Joanne Santiglia’s poem “Cherry Blossom Lesson” is a short, but remarkable poem about fertility and how fleeting it is. The poem looks at those beautiful blossoms and in those “pink and white explosions of spring” sees a woman yearning to “pour herself over her lover’s body/ and blanket him with her own voluptuous blooms.”  

Howard Prosnitz’s poem “Caption” is an ekphrasis of sorts, describing a surreal picture in which a fish is portrayed holding a creel from which the head of a man protrudes. It has the feeling both of bulldogs playing cards and of a Magritte painting.

Janet K’s poem “Rocky Road of Later Life” (not included in the package) is another rewrite of her lyric turn on the indignities of getting older:

Drugged into a semblance of calm,
flailing in agitation, or awash in tears,
we will all take our place
in the veterans of having been parade,
a line that stretches into light years.

No one captures bemusement as Janet does.

Thanks to everyone who brought their poems. Don’t forget to upload to the Google Drive if you can before this Tuesday. See you there.

—Arthur Russell

%d bloggers like this: