Tag: poetry

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A stylized shot from "Poetry" by Lee Chang-dong.

Flowers and Odd Things: Lee Chang-dong’s “Poetry” (2010)

In the same way that Steve McQueen’s Shame uses sex addiction merely as one avenue into deeper issues, Lee Chang-dong’s Poetry takes a similar tactic with its protagonist’s malady (Alzheimer’s) in order to play upon its own – not just deeper, but insidiously so – concerns. For all the film’s talk about beauty, and its genuinely poignant moments of personal confession and aesthetic consideration, there is a sense of pervading cruelty which is under constant subversion, from the opening moments of a uniformed girl’s corpse floating face-down in a river – the title “Poetry” almost demurely phasing in beside its stillness – to Yang Mi-ja’s persistent self-deceit, which she both helplessly suffers and, in a way, actively (and selfishly) utilizes.

What do I mean by this, exactly? Of course, Yang Mi-ja (or just Mi-ja; played by the pitch-perfect Yun Jeong-hie) is not to blame for her sudden cognitive ailment – such is common enough for a sixty-six-year-old. And, at least outwardly, she is a kind, beautiful, somewhat genteel woman, with an almost precious comportment in her dealings with others. She has raised her divorced adult daughter’s son in her stead (the daughter, without a voice or body for most of the film, lives in Busan) and also works as a caregiver for a partly-paralyzed old man, Mr. Kang (Kim Hee-ra). All worth at least some admiration, surely. Lee Chang-dong introduces her in a doctor’s visit: Mi-ja’s complaints about arm pain quickly turn towards the more concerning issue of memory loss. She has begun to forget common words, which embarrasses her, but also becomes something she quickly learns to charmingly deflect from. When, in a phone call with her daughter right after, she neglects to mention this troubling issue, the viewer knows something is awry – indeed, this seems heralded by a grim scene outside the hospital: the floating corpse has been found (suicide, apparently), and the girl’s mother is in a mournful daze, creating a spectacle where several bystanders watch in mute fascination as the disheveled woman mutters and groans and collapses on the street. Nothing is explicitly stated – the event occurs matter-of-factly, with little dialogue. It’s a good scene, playing into the idea of a public’s inability to sufficiently deal with its darker elements, and will have deeper relevance for Mi-ja, later on, for this will not be the first time she encounters the dead girl’s mother. […]

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A Chinese painting of dragons, inspired by the Tao Te Ching

Through the Western Gate: Le Guin, Francoise Sagan, and the Tao Te Ching

Translating a written work from one language to another is a tricky business or a tricky art or a Sisyphean task with a boulder weighing more than the universe. Translating is not transliteration, which is simple, if awkward – even ugly – word-for-word replacement. Almost anyone with a 20-pound dictionary and lots of patience can do it – you take a word or two in, say, Russian, then look them up, hope you don’t have to spend the weekend digging through verb conjugations, then put those down in, say, English. And you do this until you are finished. And when you are finished, what do you have? A polished, faithful transmission of the thought, the ambience, the idea of the original? No. You have a clunky, misshapen, machine translation-like rendition of something – God knows what.

In his translation of Francoise Sagan’s La Chamade, Douglas Hofstadter states the case for a certain leeway in the transmission of a novel in French to one in English, at least for HIS translation style. His favorite analogy seems to be a musical one, wherein he recounts how one piece of music which is performed in many different ways by different artists. The music is written, solid, there for all to see, but when some particular singer or band renders it, it’s different – the same, but different, re-interpreted. […]

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A portrait of Marina Tsvetaeva, author of "In Praise of the Rich"

Analysis: Marina Tsvetaeva’s “In Praise of the Rich”

Distrusting as she was of the Soviet Union and its adherent Communists (and the Bolsheviks, before them), the great Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva nevertheless wrote some devastating verse that was, at least in part, sympathetic to their anti-bourgeoise principles. Yet, even in her critique, there are unexpected depths averse to easy politicization. Take, for example, the excellent and ironic “In Praise of the Rich” which subtly (and not-so-subtly) effaces its subject whilst taking the form of an ode.

There are a few translations available to read online, and I struggled for a short while to lock one down for analysis. Elaine Feinstein’s book is indispensable, and offers a great selection of the poet’s oeuvre, but I found her translation of “In Praise of the Rich” to be much looser, oddly enjambed, and not as accessible as McDuff’s – even if hers is a more faithful rendering of the original Russian, at least in a literal sense*. Granted, its plainspoken quality has a directness (as if homespun) that McDuff’s more obviously lyrical translation misses, but if English-friendly accessibility is paramount, here, then his version gets the nod.

The speaker is distanced from the rich, and the gap is quite large, but already a paradox emerges since in spite of this distance, the speaker declaims an affection (from the rooftops, no less) for them. More than affection: love. Now, the accoutrements of Soviet agitprop are all present: the poor speaker’s “honest” place, contrasted with the rich, their crushed plight underneath the wheels of excess, and the next two stanzas exacerbate further. […]

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A stylized portrait of Joseph Seamon Cotter Jr.

Early Glimmer: The Young Writer’s Potential As Seen In Joseph Seamon Cotter Jr.

Creative talent is not always easy to assess. At least not immediately. Rather, it is something more nuanced—something that requires not just practice but also understanding. (And this applies to both the creator as well as the percipient.) ‘Great art demands great audiences,’ Whitman said. And when attempting to assess talent, one must take into account the age of the creative individual.

‘Wait—but you have always said that what matters is what is on the page and that the artist is irrelevant! And here you are making excuses! A hypocrite you are!’ Hold tight, jerk-face reader. While this is true—that all that does matter is what is on the page, the age of the individual must be taken into account in order to render some sort of judgment with regards to talent. That is, one’s mere creative potential. As example, if a teenager writes a poem, it will invariably be filled with some sort of cliché. Not always, mind you, but one would be hard pressed to uncover an exception.

When young people have sent me their writing, I often focus on the phrasing—is there the occasioned good turn of phrase in midst the cliché? Is the young writer attempting something interesting? Or is this just another generic ‘I hate the world because my parents made me clean my room’ poem/story? Or another bad rip-off of Plath? Does this person seem to have a rawness within that only needs the nurture of dedication and study? Or are these clichéd works written by someone in their adult years still lauding the lazy, inarticulate Bukowski? […]

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Three images of Carl Sandburg, including a bust of the poet.

The Grit and Dirt of Carl Sandburg (Four Poems Analyzed)

The first time I read Carl Sandburg I was in high school wherein the words, ‘Hog Butcher for the world,’ composed the first line of text, which is of course the first line to his famous poem “Chicago”. I recall not knowing what to make of the poem upon my teenaged read, as I always preferred to reexamine poetry multiple times. But I always remembered it. The poem puts me in mind of Upton Sinclair’s well-known novel The Jungle, which is also set in Chicago, and both Sandburg and Sinclair share a love for exposing the political underbelly of culture. It has been argued that Sandburg is a Neglected Poet in that, while his reputation is not obscure, it perhaps should be grander than it is.

At his best, Carl Sandburg is an excellent poet that does not steer away from the grit and dirt of life—the life of the struggling poor, or just his love of city and nature. At his worst, he can at times veer into preaching cliché (however minimally) and his lesser poems don’t hold the heft as those of someone like Robinson Jeffers or Wallace Stevens. But while Jeffers and Stevens are more philosophical, Sandburg is more social. […]

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A stylized photo of Hazel Hall

Curtains On the Wall: The Poetry of Hazel Hall

“All art is political.” Oh, yawn. Not again with the politics. Why are people occasioned to state this? Would it be any different to claim that all art is religious? That where one sees politics another sees Jesus? What would be the difference? Allow me to explain. Not about politics or religion, as that is a different essay. But rather, I immediately was reminded of Hazel Hall, a poet who has been largely overlooked, but my hope is that future readership will alter this.

Hall was not a political poet. (Nor was she particularly religious for that matter.) In fact, her poems are, on surface, easy to overlook. Many involve her love of stitching or the sound of footfalls, or even watching others walk. She is, in fact, anti-political. Why? Because she remains outside the regular clamor and din of political chatter. Spending much her life within a wheelchair, Hazel Hall is the utmost poet of observation. She sat and looked and reflected, and then wrote about it later. Who knew her? Who looked up into that window that housed this not so silent woman? Many compare her to Emily Dickinson, and there are indeed some similarities. Both engaged in reclusive lifestyles. Both wrote in a somewhat rhyming form (which you will see later), and neither longed to engage much past their private windows. Hall perhaps had more opportunity to engage others, but with so little known of her, readers can’t be sure. […]

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Stylized photo of Helen Vendler next to a checkmate chess board.

The Issue To Create: Debunking a Helen Vendler Myth With (Good) Poetry

“The issue of a good poem must be urgent to the poet.”

– The Art of Shakespeare Sonnets by Helen Vendler

…and the issue of literary critics is how they make banalities or bullshit sound pithy. Thus we have the above statement, which, in essence, translates to: “Poets make good shit when they care about their shit”. Contextually, this is excerpted from Helen Vendler’s analysis of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 01, where she makes the case that the sonnet is more limited than Shakespeare’s No. 17, because 17 deals with “issues of mortality and corruption”, which Shakespeare gave more of a damn about, as opposed to the “dynastic question” of 01. Well, Helen is half-right. Sonnet 01 is worse than Sonnet 17. Only, the mechanism is less a matter of the shit Shakespeare cared about, than that, simply, Sonnet 01 was made when Shakespeare’s mind was snoozing, and 17 when that same mind was musing. Having reached the stage where I can call myself a poet who has written a couple good poems, or better, two of which you can see over at Cosmoetica’s Vers Magnifique section, I now have the privilege of saying: Helen, YOU’RE FULL OF SHIT.

Let me clarify a couple things. This article serves as a poetic self-evaluation of my current scant successes in the realm of poesizing. What it isn’t, though, is a step-by-step guide for other amateur poets. Maybe you’ll find clues, a couple of useful hints here and there. What I’ll be focusing on is what didn’t matter. Some myth-busting to prevent the Helen Vendler types from clogging things up with distractions. With the biographical fluff, in other words. Stuff like whether you should write by hand or type. Whether extensive research helps. Whether having a strong stance about your subject really matters. And, unlike other writers who tend to be coy and mysterious about their actual craft, I intend to be thorough and lay it all out, to the best of my memory. […]

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Man carrying thing, used as a photo for the Wallace Stevens poem

Analysis: Wallace Stevens’s “Man Carrying Thing”

I won’t miss this day. In fact, I’ll try to make up for it by jotting down my thoughts on a Wallace Stevens poem, “Man Carrying Thing”. I just memorized it (hopefully it sticks) and it’s a fun thing to rattle off and attempt to wrap your head around. He wrote these incredibly eloquent, philosophical puzzles that require multiple readings and deep thought to unpack, if not fully understand. I’m not sure most of Stevens’s poems have a singular, unitary meaning. Perhaps some of the simpler ones do. However, most of the famous, great Stevens poems possess a multiplicity (not infinity) of meanings that merge and interweave and clash. The act of reading his poems isn’t trying to find out what they mean – as if each one came with a packaged, one-sentence definition. It’s parsing out each part, uncovering different meanings and how they interact to form a complex yet congruous whole – certainly one that requires many paragraphs, if not entire pages (books, even!), to elaborate on. The thing I love most about Stevens’s poems is how many questions unravel after landing on a likely answer. Again, there’s a limit to these questions, but the point is that his poems are a delight to return to again and again, since they seem to grow in stature and meaning as one grows in life experience. Without further ado, here’s the poem. […]