Thursday, June 12, 2008

Gerald Stern, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and the Despair That Is Modern Poetry

Cover by Wayne Hogan

Well, just when I thought I had everything reasonably under control I realized I've fallen behind in replies to poetry submissions, the bread and butter of a little magazine, or at least this one. So, although I'd planned to concentrate on proofing and tweaking the layout for issues #163 & 164 this weekend, I believe I'll be concentrating more on the mentioned work at hand.

For those waiting an inordinately long amount of time
(over 90 days), my apologies. I should have that corrected within two weeks.

I mentioned in one of two posts last Sunday that I have been reading Gerald Stern's new book, Save the Last Dance. I finished it up yesterday and won't comment in depth until I've gone through it again at least once more, but confess to being mildly disappointed. As is usual with most modern books of poetry, there were 3 or 4 poems that grabbed me. This is exactly opposite to my usual reaction to Stern: there are usually only 3 or 4 poems that don't grab me. But, before I get ahead of myself, I obviously have some rereading to do. I'm also reading Adam Zagajewski's new volume, Eternal Enemies. Zagajewski is another poet I usually enjoy very much and I'm having a similar reaction, though there are more than 3 good poems. Perhaps more on that front later. In the meantime, here is one of the poems by Gerald Stern that did grab me (plus an audio of Stern reading it last year):

Death By Wind

As for those who face their death by wind
and call it by the weird name of forgiveness
they alone have the right to marry birds,
and those who stopped themselves from falling down
by holding the wall up or the sink in place
they can go without much shame for they
have lived enough and they can go click, click
if they want to, they can go tok, tok
and they can marry anything, even hummingbirds.


I'm not sure if I'm getting a bit jaded, having a little "modern" poetry burnout, or if these are just two more examples of books that prompted my quest for books of poems that are nearly perfect. The reader contributed list is currently up to 36 books. If you'd like to make a suggestion for the list, just leave it in a comment to this post or send it in an email to lilliput review at google dot com. Meanwhile, I may find myself scurrying back to Han Shan's Cold Mountain, Basho's never ending road, or Issa's most accommodating, if decidedly disheveled, hut.

A tip of the hat goes out to Rus Bowden at The Poetic Ticker for pointing the way to last week's column by Ted Kooser at American Life in Poetry. Though I'm not much for parody, the item he posted last week by R. S. Gwynn is too good in and of itself not to share. First the much esteemed original by Gerard Manley Hopkins:


Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things—
---FFor skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
-------For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnuts fall; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced
—fold, fallow, and plough;
__And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
_Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
__With swift, slow, sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
_________Praise him.


Here is R. S. Gwynn's Fried Beauty, from the original American Life in Poetry post:


Fried Beauty

Glory be to God for breaded things

_Catfish, steak finger, pork chop, chicken thigh,
___ Sliced green tomatoes, pots full to the brim
With french fries, fritters, life-flow onion rings,
_-Hushpuppies, okra golden to the eye,
____ That in all oils, corn or canola, swim

Toward mastication's maw (O molared mouth!);
__Whatever browns, is dumped to drain and dry
______On paper towels' sleek translucent scrim,
These greasy, battered bounties of the South:
------------------ Eat them.


Yes, refreshing as that is, I believe a return to Cold Mountain is in order very soon. For now, it's time to take a look at some poems from Lilliput Review #86, from January 1997. This one opened with a beauty by Mary S. Rooney (with one more to follow):


The wheel is geared

carved for movement, and we,
born in winter, move,
are moved forward
_____________into spring

knowing only:
this apparent fixity of seasons,
this sweet, uncertain wobble
____________________of earth.

M. S. Rooney


one after the other--
the last sound
the wave makes

Gary Hotham


"Lust For Life"

smoking a cigarette, bleached
by the tv light at 1 a.m.
watching Iggy Pop
Sufi dance across an all white
sound stage on MTV

God, i wish
my dead uncle
had lived to see

Mark Borczon


Answer from Tibet

When the wind
to blizzard
and your feet
are not your
own, and your open arms
write without notion, that
is a prayer
flag, my friend

M. S. Rooney


Scattered diamonds
__far below the skyscrapers:
Life isn't so beautiful.

Kiyoe Kitamura


One final note about something I am reading and enjoying very much: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. For many years I had been scared off this title as too complex, too hard, overwhelming etc.; I've found, in fact, that for me it is just the opposite. Though character names can be a bit difficult to follow, there is a family tree at the beginning of the book that untangles any twisted skeins. This is the art of storytelling at its finest, the oral tradition in written form. Though Louise Erdrich has long been one of my favorite contemporary writers, it's taken me until now to make the connection between these two writers. Fine stuff, indeed. And, if you are still scared off, check out Garcia Marquez's Chronicle of a Death Foretold. It is one of my favorite novels and clocks in at an unthreatening 120 pages. I don't think you'll be sorry.

Until the next go round,

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