Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Nance Van Winckel in Agni

Photo by psd via flickr/CC

Thin Ice

I was walking on it,
the it I gave no thought to
and which my father got the gist of
and had to scold me about. It
was creaking. Newly hatched,
the jewel-toned fish swam
beneath: cold vault of readied
kisses. I went slowly on it--young lady--trying to be leaf-like,
to be zip, zero, zilch,
while the old man's voice
lifted--Who?!--from a shore
forty years off--just who do you think you are?

Agni 68 p. 189

The speaker in this poem seems to be a young girl--a young lady--on the verge of growing up. Puberty and the whole process of discovering one's sexuality can feel risky and even out of control. the speaker "was walking on it," the "thin ice" that she doesn't even notice, but her father--the adult who can see what's coming and is scared by it--reprimands her.

The "jewel-toned fish" swam in a "cold vault of readied kisses," illustrating the sensual adventures that await her but as yet remain cold and out-of-reach. That ice is thin, though, and creaking. It's ready to break, and the frightened "old man" father, unwilling yet to give up the child to puberty, asks "just who do you think you are?" It's as if he doesn't recognize her, as he begins to see the woman she will become. Even forty years later, his voice--the sound of his fear and anger and questioning--still rings in her mind.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

David Lee Garrison in Rattle

Bach in the D.C. Subway

As an experiment,
the Washington Post
asked a concert violinist--
wearing jeans, tennis shoes,
and a baseball cap--
to stand near a trash can
at rush hour in the subway
and play Bach
on a Stradivarius.
Partita No. 2 in D Minor
called out to commuters
like an ocean to waves,
sung to the station
about why we should bother
to live.

A thousand people
streamed by. Seven of them
paused for a minute or so
and thirty-two dollars floated
into the open violin case.
A café hostess who drifted
over to the open door
each time she was free
said later that Bach
gave her peace,
and all the children,
all of them,
waded into the music
as if it were water,
listening until they had to be
rescued by parents
who had somewhere else to go.

David Lee Garrison
Rattle 14:2 p. 40

Consider reading this poem again while listening to the Partita. You can listen to Itzhak Perlman playing the Allemande here, and find videos of the other movements.

The poem uses the metaphor of an ocean to express the flow of Bach's music. The Partita "called out to commuters / like an ocean to waves." Waves move toward shore in an apparent attempt to escape, but are always pulled back toward the sea, their origin and home. The music is the ocean, and the commuters, as waves, are being called to that which is their origin.

Human beings are viewed in the poem as a part of the music, almost as if they are created by it and being called back home. A few commuters recognize this instinctively: the seven who stop to listen, the café hostess, and especially the children. I'm listening to the Partita as I write this, and I can tell you it is difficult not to stop and just be lulled into the music. Like the children, I could easily lose all sense of time and place and be tranced into a beautiful Bach state.

Photo by Aidan Jones via flickr/CC

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Stephen Dunn in Vallum

Waiting for the Bus

Just let the world happen to you,
a Buddhist friend once advised.
I told him it was not my style.

Now here comes a punky boy
with spiked hair
amping his music into my life

and the newspaper I'm trying
to hide behind tells us the man
who can't read the iffy world

has once again rolled the dice.
"I'm so tired of being starved,"
a woman says to another woman,

loud enough to be overheard.
Some of us wait for the bus.
Others turn to her and nod.

The speaker in this poem lives in a contradiction. "It was not my style," the speaker says, to "let the world happen," yet the speaker hides behind a newspaper, not engaged with the world. In fact, the speaker seems to be purposely disengaged with it, attempting to place a barrier between self and the world. Perhaps this prevents the world from happening to him or her, but it also prevents the speaker from affecting the world.

The newspaper/barrier is an illusion, however, and the speaker can't escape the "punky" boy's music, the woman's lament of being "starved," or the bad news in the paper itself. The woman's statement--"I'm so tired of being starved"--expresses both her lack of connection with the world and her desire for it. She says this "loud enough to be overheard," wanting to be known and understood. In the crowd, some continue to "wait for the bus" while some "turn to her and nod."

The world is happening to these people whether they acknowledge it or not. The speaker attempts to hide; the woman reaches out for connection; some ignore what is happening and wait for something better. There is a palpable sense of alienation that comes through the poem, and it strikes me that the answer is not how the world does or doesn't happen--it will no matter how we respond--but how we connect with others and maintian the quality of our relationships. Hiding doesn't work. Waiting doesn't work. I find myself hoping this woman finds sustenance in the company of others.

Photo by eschipul via flickr/CC

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Archive of Poetry, Poetry Analysis, and Insightful Commentary

Hello! This blog is on hiatus, but feel free to peruse the many poetry critiques I wrote over a two-year period. If you are looking for good poems and some intelligent, thoughtful analysis--both in the essays and in the comments--this is a good place to be. I still use the blog myself as a reference for current essay writing.

You can find me now in the world of The Tenacious Writer:

Thanks for visiting, and enjoy!