Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Reeser chooses Gioia

"Reeser chooses Gioia" will be the post until after Epiphany, since this is such a busy time of the year...

Poet Jennifer Reeser chooses a poem by Dana Gioia.

About Jennifer Reeser

Jennifer Reeser is the author of two collections, An Alabaster Flask, and Winterproof, and is also creator of the Shakespearean series Sonnets from the Dark Lady. She has contributed poems, scholarly articles and translations of French and Russian literature to such journals as POETRY, The Hudson Review, The Formalist, Light Quarterly and The National Review. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including Longman’s An Introduction to Poetry, and Phoenix Rising: The Next Generation of American Formal Poets. She is the former assistant editor to Iambs and Trochees. She is a poetry consultant on faculty at the West Chester Poetry Conference. She lives amid the bayous of southern Louisiana.

About the poem

Noon. It is the strongest, brightest time of day. Artists are advised to examine their subjects in this full spectrum white light, in order that they may clearly see all variegation in temperature and value.  Light from the noonday sun is the hardest light spill possible, the most accurate revealing light source available to the eye.   In this poem, I most appreciate the repetitive, ongoing aspect of perception – the interrogative -- set unexpectedly in the day, as opposed to morose, covert, romantic, deadening night.   However rueful the speaker’s message may be, the manner of his presentation is optimistic. This is (after all) the better man being given life, allowed to speak, the poem taking issue with its message, arguing against itself.  The reader learns that this is the man who is not, and yet here he is, regardless; the very fact of his presence, a positive statement.  The music of stanza three is irresistible, with its caesuras and alliteration, the “spin” of its last inquiry, as it were, spilling over into the unforeseen image of the rose. Horticultural wisdom goes that roses would rather drink than eat.  I find the poem’s fierce vulnerability to be appealing, and its refusal of irony to be a relief.   Its courtly diction overarches, beautifies and mitigates like a garden arbor the choler taking place beneath. As a reader, I feel a sense of inclusion through the speaker’s insistence on meaning. For me, the final line is unforgettable.

The poem


Just before noon I often hear a voice,
Cool and insistent, whispering in my head.
It is the better man I might have been,
Who chronicles the life I've never led.

He cannot understand what grim mistake
Granted me life but left him still unborn.
He views his wayward brother with regret
And hardly bothers to disguise his scorn.

"Who is the person you pretend to be?"
He asks, "The failed saint, the simpering bore,
The pale connoisseur of spent desire,
The half-hearted hermit eyeing the door?

"You cultivate confusion like a rose
In watery lies too weak to be untrue,
And play the minor figures in the pageant,
Extravagant and empty, that is you."

"Interrogations at Noon" reprinted by permission of Dana Gioia.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Owen chooses Frost

Here's what wired.com says about James and this book.

About James A. Owen

James A. Owen is a Merchant Prince, in training to become a Philosopher King. He writes, he draws, and he never leaves skidmarks at the edge of a cliff. In his spare time, he is redesigning an entire town. He is allergic to cats, among other things. And he can do Jeff Bridges' smile from TUCKER with uncanny accuracy.

About the poem

This is my favorite poem because of the last stanza. The rest is just a delivery system to get to those lines, which embody my most passionate goals in life. Work being play for mortal stakes may sum up my life's choices - conscious and otherwise.

The Poem


Out of the mud two strangers came
And caught me splitting wood in the yard,
And one of them put me off my aim
By hailing cheerily "Hit them hard!"
I knew pretty well why he had dropped behind
And let the other go on a way.
I knew pretty well what he had in mind:
He wanted to take my job for pay.

Good blocks of oak it was I split,
As large around as the chopping block;
And every piece I squarely hit
Fell splinterless as a cloven rock.
The blows that a life of self-control
Spares to strike for the common good,
That day, giving a loose my soul,
I spent on the unimportant wood.

The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You're one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you're two months back in the middle of March.

A bluebird comes tenderly up to alight
And turns to the wind to unruffle a plume,
His song so pitched as not to excite
A single flower as yet to bloom.
It is snowing a flake; and he half knew
Winter was only playing possum.
Except in color he isn't blue,
But he wouldn't advise a thing to blossom.

The water for which we may have to look
In summertime with a witching wand,
In every wheelrut's now a brook,
In every print of a hoof a pond.
Be glad of water, but don't forget
The lurking frost in the earth beneath
That will steal forth after the sun is set
And show on the water its crystal teeth.

The time when most I loved my task
The two must make me love it more
By coming with what they came to ask.
You'd think I never had felt before
The weight of an ax-head poised aloft,
The grip of earth on outspread feet,
The life of muscles rocking soft
And smooth and moist in vernal heat.

Out of the wood two hulking tramps
(From sleeping God knows where last night,
But not long since in the lumber camps).
They thought all chopping was theirs of right.
Men of the woods and lumberjacks,
The judged me by their appropriate tool.
Except as a fellow handled an ax
They had no way of knowing a fool.

Nothing on either side was said.
They knew they had but to stay their stay
And all their logic would fill my head:
As that I had no right to play
With what was another man's work for gain.
My right might be love but theirs was need.
And where the two exist in twain
Theirs was the better right--agreed.

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future's sakes.

--Robert Frost (1874-1963)

Poem in public domain.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Stephenson chooses Robertson

About Hannah Stephenson 

Hannah Stephenson is a poet and instructor based in Columbus, Ohio. Recently, her work has appeared in Contrary, Huffington Post, The Nervous Breakdown, MAYDAY, qarrtsiluni, Spoonful, and Fiddleblack. For more of her work, visit her daily poetry site, The Storialist (www.thestorialist.com).

About the poem

I first encountered Robin Robertson’s “New Gravity” in what is arguably the best way to discover new poems we come to fall in love with: in books we select from shelves in bookstores for no reason, when we aren’t looking for anything. I didn’t recognize the poet’s name, but I liked the sound of it, and the look and feel of his narrow, sparse book A Painted Field (and its dark cover showing an enormous expanse of dark sky, and a very thin strip of water).

This poem is the first in the book, and the first that I read. When I bought the book, I put two little dots around the title of this poem in pen, maybe to preemptively help me fish it from my mind.

I’ve returned to it often in the decade since I first read it. It’s only ten lines (and two sentences!), yet I admire how much story and scene Robertson gives us. We know the season (fall, I assume, based on the fallen leaves), the cemetery setting, and the people present.

More than that, the simple earnestness of this poem is staggering. Robertson’s voice is so un-self-conscious and calm here--when I read this poem, I think, “This is the only way the poem could be.” He shows restraint, too--gives us just the right amount of detail. I admire how trusting he was of his own voice in writing this, how certain that this moment mattered and he wanted to give it to us. Sincerity and clarity are powerful tools. I need this reminder.

The poem
New Gravity

Treading through the half-light of ivy
and headstone, I see you in the distance
as I’m telling our daughter
about this place, this whole business:
a sister about to be born,
how a life’s new gravity suspends in water.
Under the oak, the fallen leaves
are pieces of the tree’s jigsaw;
by your father’s grave you are pressing acorns
into the shadows to seed.

Note from Marly:  I have failed in getting in touch with Robin Robertson for a permission, so this one could be temporary--however, I hope that if he finds his way here, he will like finding his words with Hannah's comments about discovering wideness and clarity in ten lines.