Tag: poetry

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A stylized snapshot from Rob Reiner's "This Is Spinal Tap", where the group performs "Gimme Some Money".

POEM: “Thought Our Film Would Say It All”

THOUGHT OUR FILM WOULD SAY IT ALL

And then some scumbag wanted money for the footage
Of my friend. Well, HIS friend, as a fact
Was a ponderer’s poet, while he cannot

Think. Well, he IS thinking
Of himself, bobbing down a perfect sea
Storm loosened from the surface

Of our lens. Guess which had a brain
Injury and you’d guess wrong. Say CHEESE
Bitch! Or that’s what HE did at any rate

Offered. Not even poets deserve riches. […]

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The manuscript copy of William Stafford's "Traveling Through The Dark", written in long-hand in a notebook.

Improving William Stafford’s “Traveling Through The Dark”

Decades ago, when I first came stateside, & was catching up studying the collected works of mostly great American poets I had only heard about, since I didn’t have access to their books in Zimbabwe, one of the poems I stumbled upon in an anthology, pre-internet, & liked a lot, was William Stafford’s very American Traveling Through The Dark – since all across this nation roads such scenarios are quite numerous. Myself, then, an idealistic, young but naïve poet who had a handful of decent to good poems under my wing – & having written for less than five years, I simply lacked the technical competencies, poetic instincts & wisdom to see the glaring flaws inherent in it.

Now let me be brutally honest – no matter what you’ve read, heard or seen elsewhere this isn’t a great poem, nor is it even near-great! At best it’s a solid &/or good poem but what prevents it from greatness of, say, W.B. Yeat’s Leda And The Swan is its documentary style which, in the hands of a lesser poet, leaves little room to expand on its themes, its clunkiness, repetitive verbosity & William Stafford’s need to explain then overstate instead of trusting the reader to make their own quick connections by just giving us the necessary facts succinctly, efficiently & in the right sequence, so the words heighten each other in their setups into that purview of poetry not prose. Also, there’s no sustained vigor which is a by-product of brevity & being bold with the materials at hand. Yes, as poets we often love words excessively to our own detriment in their use so I’d advise to only love them to the same extent you’re willing to ruthlessly cut them, if need be. While I like the English language – I come to it as a second language so I’ve no qualms editing it rigorously. Tellingly, in this short video Stafford explains how it came about, his not knowing how to finish it, but upon taking it to a writers’ group & noticing their reaction to his reading of it, wisely stuck to his ending, yet unfortunately in the same breath, gave up revising it anymore. Then, he sent it off for publication, into this its famous but overwrought version – I no longer objectively like, at 157 words: […]

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A stylized photo from John Ashbery's dusk jacket for his poetry collection, "Self-Portrait In A Convex Mirror". Ashbery is looking at himself in a tall, narrow mirror.

Flames Against Indifference: On John Ashbery’s “Illustration”

So much has been said of John Ashbery, pro and con, regarding the man’s poetic accomplishment, that to go over the details here would be to dither between a number of points better analysts have already raised. Since his death in 2017, there have been and will continue to be many encomiums, and I’m sure a few open critiques, too. I won’t engage in such, here, as I haven’t read enough of Ashbery’s entire oeuvre to launch into full-throated hagiography, and I’m more than happy to let a hardier soul tackle whatever the hell Flow Chart is.

But “Illustration” from his 1956 collection Some Trees is a perfect example of John Ashbery at his best, although less mysterious, and less remarkable, than some of the pieces from, say, 1976’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror. In this way, however, such sensitivity to frontal analysis lends itself well to younger poets learning the craft who might otherwise be stumped by the later book’s longer, more densely-packed enigmas. […]

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A stylized shot of West Virginia, where a portion of Don Moss's "Lettered State" takes place.

POEM: Don Moss — “Lettered State”

Lettered State

An hour past dawn, at this clear-road pace,
We’d cross the last county line,
Passing from East to West Virginia.
His plan was masterful. A second D-
W-I, he’d be revoked a full year.
With the foresight a son might inherit,
He’d claimed his wallet stolen
And applied for a duplicate license.

He slid the form under the wide
Bi-focaled face of the counter woman.
Who’d lifted her head to assess him,
Corrected the date, asked of insurance,
Reviewed and stamped his freedom form,
Freedom to drive west, to Phoenix, AZ,
A two-day drive to friend Tom’s,
Take the Arizona test, cowboy a year,
Return to Virginia and petition
The court for reinstatement. Masterful.

His ’73 Continental drove well, but
Father didn’t know what to do
On the right side of the wide front seat,
Forming fists of dependence.
“Son, how fast you going?” […]

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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? […]