Wednesday, December 27, 2006

poetry class! 2006!

We here at Stevereads thought we'd resurrect one more time our Poetry Class, with a culling of three poems from our archives. We know that at least three accomplished poets read this blog, and yet most of them (in fact, all of them except our dear John, the fourth truly wonderful poet by that Christian name we've known) have refrained from any comment whatsoever on the poems we've posted here.

We're painfully aware of the reason why. Yes, yes, our aesthetic sensibilities are a bit ... well, perhaps challenged? At any rate they pretty much stopped with Kipling and Service, so we give added weight to clear merical lines and perhaps some openly celebrated sentiment.

In any case, the tradition deserved, we thought, one last hurrah. So here they are, in no particular order:


Past midnight, and my umpteenth Zinfandel.
I type the Science Spotlight for tomorrow's
edition of the Global Sentinel:

The earth is losing species at a rate
comparable with the mass extinctions of the Cambrian, Devonian, Permian,
Triassi, and Cretaceous. The Gilded Toad
lived on a mountain range in Costa Rica,
and has not been seen for 15 years.
The Hawaiian Thrush was extirpated by
destruction of its forest habitat,
pathogens brought by introduced mosquitoes,
and competition from non-native species.
The Hawaiian Crow is also now extinct.
Pantandon madagascariensis
(a fish from Malagasy) disappeared
when swamps it lived in were converted to
fields to grow rice. A 'new' Brazilian
amphibian has not been sighted since
it was discovered 80 years ago.
What's happening now is more than can be seen
anywhere in the fossil record. These
annihilations, taking place for reasons
of climate change and new disease emergence,
are indications of climacteric things
which will affect us and our frailly balanced
productive economic systems, SOON.

In my same column thirty-eight years back:
the earth is threatened by its own pollution ...
Western Industrial Man is facing, NOW,
not just a challenge but a climacteric ...
(Those in the front seats should have paid attention.)

Peter Reading

Prayer to Persephone for Mazy

Lady, please welcome our dog.
She comes alone and is easily scared. She never wanted
to be separated from us. Once in New Hampshire,
We climbed a look-out tower and left her.

at the bottom, by the flimsy metal ladder.
As I gazed at mountains and valleys,
someone yelled, 'Is that your dog?'
I looked down and saw her poised

On a rung, a trembling paw reaching
for the next, all that scary space
in between, and I flew down the ladder
and hugged her as she trembled and licked my face.

She likes to be scratched behind her ears,
Lady, will you hold her if she trembles?

Nan Fry

By Small and Small: Midnight to 4 a.m.

For eleven years I have regretted it
regretted that I did not do what
I wanted to do as I sat there those
four hours watching her die. I wanted
to crawl in among the machinery
and hold her in my arms, knowing
the elementary, leftover bit of her
mind would dimly recognize it was me
carrying her to where she was going.

Jack Gilbert


editor galaxy said...

Where do you find these poems?

Your want that a poem ought to display some meter and present a "celebrated sentiment" is not unique; many of the most popular living poets want the same. And I don't think it's a ridiculous want, but it is potentially too broad a filter.

Jack Gilbert's poem asks that the reader feel what he presumably feels--regret, longing, sorrow--but the poet has failed to do the work to get us to that point. The trick Gilbert uses shows up in the first line as "it." Not until the fifth line do we really know what "it" is: i.e., a woman died hooked up to machinery and the poet wasn't there. The poet tries to hook us with suspense, rather than bringing us into a place. We are never told who the woman is in relation to the narrator, either--his mom? His daughter? A lover? This and "it" are symptoms of a vague poem. Crawling into the machinery and the dim part of the woman's mind are the closest we get to interesting detail--not enough. This is a vague, sentimental poem; perhaps the poet's own personal involvement made writing a good poem impossible--I can sympathize with that problem, but not with publishing the poem.

Nan Fry's poem is also sentimental, a dog lover's poem. Steve, YOU did all of the work for Fry. You remembered a dog like the one in the poem, you brought your passion/love for all dogs to the poem, and so the poem worked. To me, the poem is like looking at the word "dog" printed on a page. But you, on the other hand, don't need more than to see the word "dog" to be happy. That's not a criticism of you--your love of dogs is human and good--but Fry should feel bad for taking advantage and giving nothing.

Peter Reading's poem is irritating. As is any high-pitched "I told you so." There is some nice language in this poem, but it isn't his, it's language borrowed. To use borrowed language isn't damning--I do all the time--but the langauge must be used by the poet to do something, not merely transposed from a newspaper into a poem. This poem has no style. No music.

The three poems you selected are bad poems all. Which surprises me: I would expect that Steve, who has read the greats up to the early 1900s, would be able to identify poetry written in traditional modes that is good. Perhaps you're reading the wrong journals and therefor not seeing much in the way of good poetry? Where did these poems come from?

steve said...

This is great stuff, editor galaxy! Brutal, but great! Yes, it's mystifying: when it comes to modern poetry, my critical acumen seems a bit wayward. Couldn't guess why.

Still, your breakdowns are wonderful! I still LIKE the poems I posted (even after you fire-hosed them!), but at least now I'm properly ASHAMED of doing so!

Anybody else out there want to weigh in?

As to where I found those poems - galaxy editor (cool how you CAME with your own nickname!), I'm afraid if I told you, you'd physically come over here and smack me. Let's just say they were culled from places where no poetry should ever grow...

Hippolyta said...

Sorry for the late weigh-in!

I've just read all the comments in the porous borders post and i have a few questions 1) how bad were those 3 comments that steve would have deleted them...2) who is the clever "anonymous" who so articulately fought with the reichmarshal? 3) for the reichmarshal: do you prefer the term "individual with a napoleonic complex" or do you prefer to be addressed as Napoleon himself?

Anonymous said...

i read the last poem as being about a dog as well. shows where my head be at yo.
i didn't think any of these were great, but i liked the second one well enough to pass it on. i like the chattiness of it, in the context of its being an address to a goddess. i take editor galaxy's point that simply reading about a dog (or, in this case, a person's love for her dog) is touching me.
but editor is also right that there's no music here: mere sentiment, no wrangling and cajoling of the words into beautiful reciprocation with one another and their ideas. and the sound! i know you don't like ashbery, but he sounds so fine! go back to your precious virgil and figger out why!

locke said...

[1) how bad were those 3 comments that steve would have deleted them...]

Steve didn't -- I posted them on the Porous Borders topic and deleted them myself -- one because it was simply an irritating double-post, the other two because they were just pretty much me calling Reichmarshal a bunch of nasty names (and on Christmas Eve, no less!) -- nothing interesting or insightful about them...

Hippolyta said...

Ah, I see! Well, I'm sure he would have deserved those names, whatever they were.

steve said...

I would never under any circumstances delete a post! Given the shall we say ROBUST level of intelligence in these comments fields, there are far more entertaining ways of dealing with anything potentially offensive posted by anybody.

Instead of summarily removing a comment I didn't like, I'd just bang the iron triangle and yell 'Come and get it!'

Hippolyta said...

I should have known that. My sincerest apologies, Steve.

John C said...

Back to the poems: I agree with Editor Galaxy that these are all bad poems. The urgency, poignancy, or pathos of the information conveyed does not alone make for poetry. But it leaves me with a question/project to toss out to all the readers here (as in Steve's backup group as in "Steve and the Readers"). Let's put Steve on the table: he's got really good taste not only in older poetry (i.e. pre-20th century), but his taste in 20th century poetry --at least when he isn't blogging about it-- isn't all that bad, either. He loves James Merrill & Frank O'Hara, & Kenneth Koch. We can WORK with this. Based on what we know, why is it that we think Steve can feel such affection for such obvious b-material. & who can we recommend?

Editor Galaxy, any journals/new anthologies to cast his way?

Hippolyta said...

This is the same Steve that likes High School Musical, right?

editor galaxy said...

Obviously, he needs a copy of Oh One Arrow from flim forum press ( Thanks for the set up, John. I'll see what I can do about finding a specific poem...