Auld Lang Syne

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Compassion and Madness

brrrrrrr  when a dream from long ago haunts you and finds itself too real in the present or future...

I awoke on a certain morning (several months ago) from a dream that began in compassion and ended in madness. It was a chilling dream filled with bizarre elements that will take me a LONG time to decipher.

I should begin by saying that I dream vividly on a regular basis. I dream in color (always) with a few b & w vignettes popping up from time to time (as in last night’s/early morning’s dream). My dreams are epic in nature most of the time, with wide-sweeping dramas or landscapes. They often involve walking in a city or town and being in different buildings that I have never seen or visited.  Sometimes I wonder if my “regular life” is the dream and the “dream” is my real life. (I think that is where a bit of the madness might come in).

My dream opens (I think) in a bedroom where there are several high beds with pretty quilts or comforters on them. I hurry to make my bed because I am going somehwere and need to get ready. The next thing I know, the dream switches to b & w in a park of some kind where there are large numbers of homelss people sleeping on open ground and under trees. There are no homeless children other than where a few mothers are breastfeeding their babies (babies not visible but I know they are there). It is like a scene from a dystopian film. I walk past the people, sobbing for all that I see. I feel (physically) their sorrow. At the edge of the field or park, I see women dressed in robes (not burqas, but ragged on the edges and long-skirted).They are dancing slowly and crying and I feel extreme sadness and fear coming from them. I step up over a curb and onto a street where the scene changes to vivid color. I am told by a youngish woman I meet not to look back. I feel like Lot’s Wife but do not look back. My heart is sad. I am afraid.

I am dressed in a colorful dress with a full skirt. I look at the flowers on the dress and wonder why there were no flowers in the park I have just left. A young woman who greets me says we should walk and we do, weaving in and out of streets an past buildings with brightly colored doors. I am greeted at an open door by a well-dressed (not gaudy) woman who takes me into a room, multi-colored and angular. I sit in a green chair and she takes my wallet from me. (I had no purse, just my wallet). I complain that I need that because without my ID and credit caard I will not be able to get home. she tells me I will never go home.  I awaken drenched with sweat and crying. In every scene/group of children, my own children (and in one case younger versions of two of my grandchildren) were part of the scene. I was at this point trying to climb out of something that at first seem like a basement with sharp broken windows. That basement faded into a pit with very slippery sides. Every time I get almost to the top I fall back/slide back. I see down on myself too. I know that I had to help the mothers find their children before the children faded like cheshire cats, leaving only their mouths.

The madness that ensued in the dream involved children who were wailing and looking for their mothers, unable to be held or comforted.

What do I learn from this? That somehow (with only a strange bit prescience) I knew mothers and children were going to face some kind of drastic action. It would be too easy to say that my dream predicted what has been going on with immigrant families. I do not give myself credit for that kind of psychic ability. But still, I think the dream was/is all about women’s precarious place in the too-white, too-unfeeling world. We have come a long way, baby really was about being declared equal…targets… we are now not even tokens of being honored and “protected” by man or society. In light of recent events, neither are our children. "Women and children first" is ancient history and not applicable. Cue the Titanic of the Future: "Men to the lifeboats! Women and children go down with the  ship."

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Manners Matter

When my grandson Christopher was a tween, we set him up for an etiquette class at the local country club where my husband played golf. It was to be a dinner adventure wherein the kids would learn about table setting, napkin folding, which utensil to use for what dish, etc. Every child was dressed in Sunday Best. There were a dozen kids, boys and girls together. We offered this to him and he jumped at the chance. Did I mention it was a meal, so free food including dessert was part of it. When he arrived, he began holding out the girls' chairs and shaking hands with the boys and the staff. Unexpected for a 12 years old, and we were proud. The meal and its lessons proceeded to unfold. Christopher raised his hand and asked if someone could give a toast. The woman who was leading them said that that is not a normal part of a dinner, but certainly he could do that if he wished to do so. He did. He welcomed everyone, remarked how nice everyone looked, and thanked the staff and the teacher. When dinner and the class were over, he politely thanked the teacher and put his napkin in the right place before holding the girls' chairs for them again.

My point is this: We have a president who just flicked a piece of something off a foreign head of state who was at the White House to attend a state dinner. The boorish behavior was accompanied by telling French President Macron that he got a piece of dandruff off his suit. He did this as the press was snapping photos. It is possible that he thinks this is an intimate gesture between friends. Yes, he is that unschooled in manners that he would not know that even best buddies and family members do not announce dandruff flicking in public.

This kind of thing happens every time the president meets with foreign dignitaries. Of course he (sometimes) reserves his direct insults for times when he is alone with his mouth, his inner circle, or his keyboard.

The limits to his bad manners and insulting tone seem unreachable. There is no inhibition present whatsoever. It is never the case that he behaves in a dignified way, even when he is saying nothing. His facial expressions, hand gestures, his body language, and his undignified mannerisms are always and ever on display. He has even picked his nose in public.

I know that there is an Office of Protocol available to teach him how one behaves in the presence of heads of state. Or perhaps he has disbanded that. It would certainly be a good idea to partake of a few lessons on how to comport himself. I am guessing that this all falls under his basic rejection of any kind of learning. He has not availed himself of any kind of that since taking office. He knows and is better at everything. He is quick to point that out. When he embarrasses the President of France on TV, it is clear he has overestimated both the friendship and his people skills.

Maybe our grandson could teach him something about being gentlemanly at dinner parties, before he blows his nose on the linen tablecloth.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Yes, poetry matters: to all of us

In a world of digital everything, and yes here I am blogging on my laptop, the question that always comes up when discussing poetry, is what if any relevance does poetry have now that anything is fair game to be reduced to 140 characters or fewer? I would answer that poetry is more important than ever. When we relegate ourselves to text-speak, we nearly eliminate syntax, spelling, grammar and we obliterate complex thought and nuance.  

A few years ago I wrote a poem in text-speak just to do it. Its dryness and clinical nature reminds me that I love words filled with the sounds and feelings that vowels produce. Being a person who has the ability for visual closure, my brain will fill in the vowels for understanding. However, minus the actual vowels, I lose something. Beauty.  Look at this small stanza of Richard Wilbur's (from The House) written as it was intended and again in txt spk (apologies to Wilbur for the bastardization of his beautiful words):

Sometimes, on waking, she would close her eyes
For a last look at that white house she knew
In sleep alone, and held no title to,
And had not entered yet, for all her sighs.

Smtms, on wking, she wd cls her eys
Fr a lst lk at tht whte hse she knw
In slp alne, nd hld no ttle to,
nd hd nt ntred yt, fr all hr sghs.

Can you "read" the second version? Probably. You can get the likely "meaning" as well. But did you sense the beauty of the diction, the intricacy of one word played against another? Were you moved?  Not likely.

While this is an extreme example, a rather silly one I might add, it underscores what I mean about language for its own beauty. Think of your favorite word. Say it (aloud or silently) and let its sounds take you, rolling them off your tongue and around the cavern of your throat. What do you FEEL?

My two favorite words are ocean and lullaby.  I love the sounds of them, the way they fill my mouth, the way they encompass me with joy. Imagine now how these two words can work together to make something of a heightened joy through their complementary imagery. This short poem is an example of how they do this for me:

When I was a baby, rocked
to sleep by the waves, I had no word 
for ocean, knew only the rise
and fall of its heartbeat, like the lullaby 
heard below my mother's own 
tidal days and nights. Lullabies are like that: 
no beginning, no end to the soothing. 
Tides too without alpha, omega, 
just a repeating lullaby on the shore.  
Now I am here at its lip, awash
in the music of the ocean, 
lulled toward sleep
as if stilled from my cries 
by an invisible mother.

Plain language to be sure, nothing fancy or hard to pronounce. It is the way the two plain words work together, spurred on to make a feeling and to paint a picture of that feeling. 

Author David Biespiel writes, in his NY Times article about the importance of poetry, that: 

Poetic utterance ritualizes how we come to knowledge. In the same way that poems illuminate our individual lives, poems also help us understand ourselves as a culture... Poetic utterance mythologizes our journey of being. Poetic utterance tells and interprets our stories. 

I would add that human beings think in metaphor, which is a wonderful testament to complexity and interconnectedness  which makes us sentient beings with souls. 
Dana Gioia in his famously controversial essay, Can Poetry Matter, tells us that poetry is an essential human art. He tells us that to be fully human we need nuanced language and delicacy or rigor of diction. He says that we are separate from other animals in large part because of complexity of thought and language which is the life-blood of poetry.
Poets are sure that each word in a poem has its own value in that a word creates (in concert with other words) an inner and outer landscape. Each word is important not only in its connotation but also in its denotation. Words have power, intrinsic power to inflame, inspire, inculcate. When words get together in the way poets hear them, the power is great, almost magical. It is why poets are (generally) so careful about word choice, word order, word play. 
Bespiel says: No matter what language we speak, we follow the guidance of poetry to better perceive sorrow and radiance, love and hatred, violence and wonder. No matter what continent we call home, we read poetry to restrict us in time and to aspire toward timelessness — whether we are in our most vibrant cities or in the remote woods. 
Poetry is like a road map therefore, or a genealogical chart, connecting past to present and leading to the future. Poets hold a great responsibility in making certain that the path ahead is one of beauty, even in its darkest moist dangerous spots. Poets are responsible for holding up a mirror to history in order to tug at our present conscience. Poetry is a vehicle taking us from there to here. It can heal as well as (sometimes) wound. Even in its wounding, there is healing. If we care about ourselves, about our cultures, poetry will always matter because it is the best way to know who we are in the world. 
Poetry is not in competition with other kind of written communication, not as some say a mere shorthand for prose. It is its own.  When we read a poem, something entirely different happens than when we read the newspaper, a novel, a text. We are stirred to think beyond the naked words, even beyond the meaning of those words. We are stirred to a new vision of the world outside our windows, outside our relationship to that world. We are more deeply connected, even if we are alone.

Poetry matters because it is the art of the utterance a balance between the beautiful and the bizarre. Poetry matters. It is lullaby and explosion, daylight and darkness, truth within truth

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Odes; why we write them

The ode is a lyric poem, classically structured in three major parts (as in the Pindaric Ode): 1. the strophe 2. the antistrophe, and 3. the epode.  

The parts of the poem correspond to movement of a chorus to one side of the stage (strophe), then to the other (antistrophe), and a pause midstage to deliver the epilogue (epode). 

The epode is of a different meter than the strophe and antistrophe. For example: iambic tetrameter, iambic tetrameter, trochaic dimeter. This change of meter is a great way to make a final point without being over the top in terms of diction. 

Pindar, as a poet, was determined to preserve and interpret great deeds (athletic and heroic) as divine values. He did this by writing odes to celebrate such victories or values. We write odes for these reasons, even now.

Let's look at the (traditional) Ode and its 3 parts:

1. Strophe typically begins the poem, consisting of two or more lines in a dominant meter, repeated as a unit.

2. Antistrophe, second stanza, is metrically harmonious with the strophe.

3. Epode is a one or two line stanza, in a different meter than the previous two stanzas.

A good contemporary ode doesn't announce itself by ay of overdone meter. In fact some contemporary ode writers eschew meter altogether. Sharon Olds' latest book, Odes, doesn't use any of the traditional poetic devices (rules) for odes. The heralding gesture of these odes is the praising (or scoffing at) of the topics she has chosen for her poems. As Olds shows, the contemporary ode is open for interpretation as to the person, place, or thing it is celebrating or praising. Here is a partial list from her table of contents:

Ode to Stretch Marks
Ode to Dirt
Ode to a Composting Toilet
Ode to Buttermilk 
Ode of the Corner I Was Stood In

One might say that Olds is breaking the form even in her choice of topics. Perhaps she is. There is nothing wrong with breaking form. Clearly Olds' choices are unconventional. I think, however, that she is leading the charge for those who want to fly in the face of tradition and strike out in new directions. It seems to me that poets writing today, especially those who write away from form, will find the praise and honoring of the ode to be a great vehicle for their work. For those who wish to stay with the traditional approach of Pindar's, brava! But this is 2018. We can ode as we are comfortable. 

It may be worth doing a few formal odes, just for the satisfaction and for getting to really KNOW the form. Then, off you go into your own space with odes, reinventing as you go but with the foundation well-built first.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Because I am not feeling kissable today

Yesterday I had some surgery on my face. A little thing called basal cell cancer on my nose and a trip to the surgeon has left me feeling awkwardly un-kissable. I love love love kissing, so this is a great hardship.

My husband is a great kisser. I am always happy to kiss him or to be kissed by him. When we were first together, kissing was one of the best parts of learning about each other, about learning how we fit together in terms of personality and approach to relationship. There is simply no way to hide inside a kiss. The kiss is a barometer of relationship. Marcel Danesi, in his The History of the Kiss!, says that "unlike sex, there is nothing to prove in kissing." I might not wholly agree with that. I think the kiss IS a proof of many things, including tenderness, loyalty, forcefulness, aggression, and more.

When I was in 8th grade I discovered kissing, the non kiss-your-grandmother-goodbye kind of kissing. I was taught to kiss by the bother of a friend. He pushed me gently against the coats in the coatroom at a dance and put his lips so gently on mine that I got dizzy. His lips were warm and soft and he put his hands on my face. The kissing he did with me remains one of my best boy-girl memories. It was so impressive that I celebrate it every year on his October 3rd birthday. All of my adult kissing has been measured against his kissing. Sometimes however kissing style or approach can be a deal breaker. I once was kissed by a boy whose braces cut my lips. He smelled of sour food too. I was so repulsed I never spoke to him again. Sometimes the kiss is a signal of the end of a relationship (the kiss-off).

I am currently reading a book edited by Brian Turner, The Kiss, which is a series of essays about all kinds of kissing, contributed by a melange of wonderful authors. Reading the book is, for me, like going to a fine restaurant and ordering a sampler. Each author/contributor shares unabashedly and honestly, adding both spice and substance to the conversation. Reading this book has made me consider how fortunate I am to have been well kissed in my lifetime. It makes me know all over again how wonderful it is to be kissed now, even as I must admit I am no longer a young kisser trying to find a mate. I am fortunate to know and expect lovely wonderful kissing on a daily basis by my sweet husband. I do know that kissing has been a make or break situation for me my whole kissing life.

In thinking about kissing today,  I took to the internet for a bit of fun looks at the "science" and non-scientific conjecture about kissing. I found a site called You Tango where there is a fun look at how various signs of the zodiac are assessed as to their kissing styles.  I share this here — just for the fun of it.

Note: the website writer put these in order from what are supposedly the best kissers to the worst. I do not agree with the line-up. Kissing is so personal as to style and effectiveness that I doubt anyone could rank them. Kissing is to be enjoyed. Great kissing is to be celebrated.

According to the web site, each zodiac sign has its unique way of kissing, from soft pecks to an open, deep French kiss. Some zodiac signs are passionate while others approach intimacy in a methodical or mechanical way, some with hands involved and some without. I offer these as they were offered by the web site writer. You be the judge.

1. Scorpio    They use their tongues. Literally, penetrating your mouth with their tongue. This can be wonderful or dangerous (if you were to bite down, it would be quite unpleasant!)

2. Virgo    The Virgo's kissing style is a sweet kiss on the hand when you're driving or watching a movie. When they get serious, the sweetness remains. 

3. Leo    Leos are passionate kissers who will brush your hair away and look into your eyes first. Otherwise, they'll wrap their arm around your neck and pull you in to give you a simple kiss on your cheekbone. They are both passionate and tender.

4. Taurus    Taureans are driven by the need to use senses, to feel their partner’s plump lips (if they are plump), smell their enticing scent, touch their soft skin and take you in. They love to kiss the neck to feel the skin and get a deep whiff of scent.

5. Gemini   Gemini is (supposedly) in fifth of the top five best kissers. Gemini, being a cerebral sign, will go for the forehead. It's a great way to feel connected. Getting a chance to gaze into expressive eyes after the kiss is a bonus for the Gemini.

6. Aries   An Aries is a physical person, making kissing a full body experience which might start pressing both of your lips, add in a little tongue, and finish with a bite. They enjoy a partner who is a little aggressive too.

7. Sagittarius   Fun and game kissing here. Sagittarius likes to use lips to trace the skin, beyond your mouth.

8. Cancer   Cancers are not wild kissers. They’re tender-hearted kissers who build tension slowly. If the They might work themselves up to holding you against something during the kiss.

9. Pices   Pisces kissers are always gentle. Unafraid to sink into their emotions, they get lost in them. At first, their go-to move might be a single lip kiss that leaves you feeling connected and wanting for more.

10. Libras   Libra kisses are soft and light. They’re shy kisses. They like to go for the butterfly kisses where your eyelashes touch together. They leave you feeling a bit lightheaded.

11. Capricorns   Capricorns are a little more classy in their kissing, but they are go-getters. They might nibble and bite you like an Aries, but more softly. They'll try not to kiss you where it might be uncomfortable for you as long as you let them know.

12. Aquarians   They show their mental connection by kissing you on the eyelid. This is more common in spouses or with parents and their children. Still, it shows a strong mental connection.

What do YOU think about kisses? Have a memory of a wonderful kiss or memory of a kiss that turned you off? Please share. I'm in the mood for writing some poems about kisses and kissers. Send me some material.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Because it's Poetry Month

Because it's poetry Month and because I am a bit nervous over some surgery scheduled for tomorrow, I am reposting a previous blog post. It is I hope worthy of your renewed attention.

The Poem, unpacked, with some translation from medieval Scots English to English.
The Thrissil and the Rois (Thistle and Rose), composed by my ancestor, William Dunbar of Scotland, is comprised of stanzas in rhyme royale form. It is a bit of a struggle to get the poem to levels of deep understanding in its original language. However, as you read along, the elements of thought and expression begin to emerge. 

To clarify, rhyme royale stanzas consist of seven lines, usually of iambic pentameter (typical for narratives of the time). The rhyme scheme is a-b-a-b-b-c-c and is normally made up either as a tercet with two couplets  (a-b-a, b-b, c-c) or as a quatrain with a tercet (a-b-a-b, b-c-c). 
This allowance for variance is particularly helpful in longer narratives.  

Notice that the poem uses aureate vocabulary (using both Latin and French) to glide it forward. Aureation is seen nowadays by some critics as being pretentious, however it is a method not of embellishment for embellishment’s sake but as necessary dressing. The narrative of Dunbar’s herein is presented via a quite common medieval device: dream vision. Since the poem was written to celebrate/commemorate a wedding (James IV of Scotland and Margaret Tudor of England), the embellishment of aureation and the dream vision devices are appropriate. 

aureate ˈôrēətˈôrēˌāt | adjectivedenoting, made of, or having the color of gold• (of languagehighly ornamented or elaborate

Let’s look at the poem itself now, beginning with Dunbar’s description of Spring (also emblematic of the beginning of married life).
Quhen Merche wes with variand windis past,
And Appryll had with hir silver schouris
Tane leif at Nature with ane orient blast,
And lusty May, that muddir is of flouris,
Had maid the birdis to begyn thair houris,
Amang the tendir odouris reid and quhyt,
Quhois armony to heir it wes delyt,

The sleeping poet has a dream in which he is addressed by the personification of May.

Me thocht fresche May befoir my bed upstude
In weid depaynt of mony divers hew,
Sobir, benyng, and full of mansuetude,
In brycht atteir of flouris forgit new,
Hevinly of color, quhyt, reid, broun, and blew,
Balmit in dew and gilt with Phebus bemys
Quhill all the hous illumynit of hir lemys.
"Slugird," scho said, "Awalk annone, for schame,
And in my honour sumthing thow go wryt,
Quhairto quod I, Sall I uprys at morrow,
For in this May few birdis herd I sing?
Thai haif moir caus to weip and plane thair sorrow,
Thy air it is nocht holsum nor benyng,

May reminds him that he had previously promised her to write a poem about the rose. 

With that this lady sobirly did smyll        [smile]
And said, Uprys and do thy observance,
Thow did promyt in Mayis lusty quhyle
For to discryve the ros of most plesance.
Quhen this wes said depairtit scho, this quene,
And enterit in a lusty gairding gent.
And than, me thocht, sa listely besene,
In serk and mantill, full haistely I went,
Into this garth, most dulce and redolent,
Of herb and flour and tendir plantis sueit,
And grene levis doing of dew doun fleit.

In the garden, Nature (seen of course as a woman) sends messengers to the animals, birds and plants of the world, requiring their immediate presence, their homage. [All present were in twinkling of an eye, both beast and bird and flower, before the queen ... as embodied in the last couplet of this part.]
Scho ordand eik that every bird and beist,
Befoir hir hienes suld annone compeir,
And every flour of vertew, most and leist,
And every herb be feild, fer and neir,
All present wer in twynkling of ane e,
Baith beist and bird and flour, befoir the quene.

Nature calls the Lion forward, described as the Lion Rampant standard of Scots Kings. Notice the rich description of this kingly beast and know Dunbar, as poet of the Court, was wont to thusly honor James:
Reid of his cullour as is the ruby glance,
On feild of gold he stude full mychtely,      [on field of gold he strode most mightily.... think of royal banner]
With flour delycis sirculit lustely.
This lady liftit up his cluvis cleir,
And leit him listly lene upone hir kne,
And crownit him with dyademe full deir,
Of radyous stonis most ryall for to se,          [of radiant stones most royal for all to see]
Saying, The king of beistis mak I thee,
And the chief protector in the woddis and schawis.
Onto thi leigis go furth, and keip the lawis.
Exerce justice with mercy and conscience,
And lat no small beist suffir skaith na skornis
Of greit beistis that bene of moir piscence.

The lion is the embodiment of the duty of the King to bring justice to all of his subjects,
the humble and the more powerful.The animals therefore acclaim their new King. 
The Eagle appears to symbolize the King's plan to keep the peace within Scotland and,
perhaps, with England. Nature crowns the Eagle King of the birds, sharpens his feathers
to dart-like points, enjoining him to let no ravens, or other birds of prey, make trouble.

All kynd of beistis into thair degré
At onis cryit lawd, Vive le roy!
And till his feit fell with humilité,
And all thay maid him homege and fewté, 
Syne crownit scho the Egle, king of fowlis,
And as steill dertis scherpit scho his pennis,   [pennis = feathers]
And bawd him be als just to awppis and owlis 
As unto pacokkis, papengals, or crennis, 
And mak a law for wycht fowlis and for wrennis. 
And lat no fowll of ravyne do efferay,
Nor devoir birdis bot his awin pray.

Nature then inspects the plants and judges the spiked thistle to be 'able for war'. The thistle (thrissil) is crowned King of all plants with a gleaming crown of rubies.
The thistle seems to represent the King's determination to defend his Kingdom.
Nature then advises the Thistle to show discretion when judging other plants.

Upone the awfull Thrissill scho beheld
And saw him kepit with a busche of speiris.
Concedring him so able for the weiris,
A radius croun of rubeis scho him gaif.
And said, In feild go furth and fend the laif.
And sen thow art a king, thow be discreit,
Herb without vertew hald nocht of sic pryce
As herb of vertew and of odor sueit,
And lat no nettill vyle and full of vyce          [and let no nettle vile and full of vice]
Hir fallow to the gudly flour delyce,
Nor latt no wyld weid full of churlichenes
Compair hir till the lilleis nobilnes,              [compare her to lillies’ nobleness]

Dunbar is a not-so-subtle admonisher to the King in this next part, wherein he seems to be warning the King to be done with the practice of having mistresses. He does this in the voice of Nature who praises the red-and-white rose over all the other flowers.The rose represents Margaret of England.

Nor hald non udir flour in sic denty
As the fresche Ros of cullour reid and quhyt,
For gife thow dois, hurt is thyne honesty,
Conciddering that no flour is so perfyt,          [considering no flower is so perfect]
So full of vertew, plesans, and delyt,               [so full of virtue, pleasance, and delight]
So full of blisfull angelik bewty,                      [so full of blissful angelic beauty]
Imperiall birth, honour, and dignité.               [imperial birth, honor, and dignity]

It is clear that these lines are meant to praise the lovely Margaret of England, and to serve as a warning to James that he has it all at home, and should not stray. Nature addresses the rose directly, praising her and calling her forward to be crowned.

Than to the Ros scho turnyt hir visage
And said, O lusty dochtir most benyng,
Aboif the lilly illustare of lynnage,
Fro the stok ryell rysing fresche and ying,
But ony spot or macull doing spring,
Cum, blowme of joy, with jemis to be cround,
For our the laif thy bewty is renownd.
A coistly croun with clarefeid stonis brycht,
This cumly quene did on hir heid inclois,  
Quhairfoir me thocht all flouris did rejos,
Crying attonis, Haill be thow richest Ros,
Haill hairbis empryce, haill freschest quene of flouris!
To thee be glory and honour at all houris!

The birds join the acclamation of the new Queen who is compared to a pearl which is totally expected in the poem as 'Margaret' is derived from the Latin term (margarita) for a pearl.
The commoun voce uprais of birdis small
Apone this wys, O blissit be the hour,
That thow wes chosin to be our principall,
Welcome to be our princes of honour,
Our perle, our plesans, and our paramour,
Our peax, our play, our plane felicité:
Chryst thee conserf frome all adversité! 

Now the poem switches from the dream of Dunbar to Dunbar himself.  Birdsong merges with the dawn chorus. Dunbar awakens and looks for the garden he saw in his dream but finds it gone. While half-frighted, he “begins” to write the poem. This is reminiscent of what would later be seen as a magical realism poem, much like Xanadu.

Than all the birdis song with sic a schout,
That I annone awoilk quhair that I lay,
And with a braid I turnyt me about,
To se this court, bot all wer went away.
Than up I lenyt, halflingis in affrey,
And thus I wret, as ye haif hard to forrow,
Of lusty May upone the nynt morrow.
It is the ninth of May.

This poem may be one of Dunbar’s best. It certainly engendered a fairly robust admiration for his work from James IV, who appointed him as Poet to the Court. Dunbar’s ability to connect nature (with a capital N) to the monarchy is without reproach, either then or now. I am reminded of Sir Elton John’s remake song sung at the funeral of Princess Diana, wherein he refers to her as England’s Rose. I’d like to think Sir Elton has read Dunbar’s Thrissil and Rois, but I’m not taking that leap. But I will happily claim a certain visceral intertextuality that comes from the collective unconscious. In the world of magical words and symbols, we can rest assured that there is more “out there” waiting for us if we allow ourselves to be dreamers and writers, and to pay attention to the issues of the day, happy and not so... all is the stuff of poetry.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Sharon Olds and her new book; another expansion ahead for me

Sharon Olds changed me from a timid vanilla ice cream with raspberry sauce writer to more of a rum raisin ice cream writer. From expected to unexpected. From bland to bold.

When I read her book, The Father, Alfred A. Knopf 1992I became brave. She wrote bravely and I could do the same. This collection of poems became a touchstone for poems I knew needed to be written.  What she wrote about (the dying of her father) and the way she wrote about it did not mince words. She used skillful diction and structure to come at this topic with honesty. Death and dying was taken off the pedestal of veiled sentiment or sentiment at all, and placed right there in front of us. Death, and in particular slow dying, was no longer a topic to be hedged, but was confronted in its nakedness and inevitability. We all secretly want to know, but no one was talking about it. Certainly no one was talking about it like Sharon Olds. Here is a poem that exemplifies that for me:

My Father's Eyes

The day before my father died
he lay there allay with his eyes open,
staring with a weary dogged look.
His irises had turned hazel in places
as if his nature had changed, bits
of water or sky set into his mineral solids.

and he swerved his blurred iris toward me and with-
in it for a moment his pupil narrowed and
took me in, it was my father 
looking at me. This lasted just
a second,

Then his vision sank back down
and left only the globe of the eye, and the
next day his soul went out
and left just my father there 

I'd never read such a thing. No overt emotion whatsoever, no flowery speech, just clear vision, inspiring diction. The poem shows what is possible in the intimate moments of our lives and our deaths. The rest of the poems in the collection are as barefaced, some even more so. I wanted to write with such clarity, such attention, such bravery. Olds' work gave me permission.

I'd always written safe poetry. I did not tackle topics that were lurking in me. It was not that I did not want to/need to write about being molested as a child, or about my father's post WWII PTSD, or my difficult relationship with my mother. I very much wanted to write about those things, not just to serve my need to vanquish them, but because I knew (have always known) that others had similar experiences. Maybe they needed to hear someone else say these things out loud. But who would say them? Maybe me? But I was a good girl poet. I was concerned about whether or not I came off as a good girl in what I wrote. I was trapped in the good girl image fostered by my very proper parents, an image I eventually held for myself too. I chose silence because that was what good girls did, to the point that my poems were too safe to be real.

Along came Sharon Olds and her book. For the first time in my reading life, a woman writer was telling some big Truths. She was writing in such a way that there was authenticity even boldness, all the while using the tools poetry uses to attract. Her skills as a poet showed me how to write. I could say the previously unsayable and still be a good girl. Good had nothing at all to do with Truth in writing. I could get at the reality in my own life and connect to the lives of others if I was brave enough. I did not need to shy away from the tough parts and hide in the shadows of safety, but it would be a dance. I would need to balance my writing to expose Truth through careful diction and style. Fortunately I have had great teachers and models for doing this. Sharon Olds, unbeknownst to her, played that role for me. When I think of the balance, the dance, I remember these words from Ric Masten about relationship:

Let it be a dance we do
Let it be a dance for two.
In the good times and the bad times too,
Let it be a dance.

Of course Masten was referring to a relationship between two lovers, but I see it as the same relationship between poets and readers. The steps must be careful and skilled. The dancers must be in a partnership.

Once I discovered my bravery in writing, I was faced with figuring out how to tell my own truths without disrupting the life I wanted to live as wife, mother, daughter, friend. Since that moment I have defined and redefined Truth and revised my way of getting to it. I am certain this will be an ongoing project as I move along my own timeline as a writer, as a woman, as a woman writer. It is not a simple thing to stay authentic in writing. It would be easy to slip back into the bowl of vanilla ice cream, that safe place where no one is ruffled by my writing. It is too easy to back down, back off, back away deferentially. But I will not back up and become the timid writer I was.

Until last evening, I had never met Sharon Olds in person. I did not yet have a copy of her latest book of poems, Odes. (by the way, the ode is not my favorite kind of poem to write, or to read). I was privileged to hear her read and to meet her afterward as part of the 16th Annual Terry Plunkett Poetry Festival, where I was a featured reader. The topic for the festival this year: Poetry and Truth. It was wonderful to hear her read, to engage with her audience for Q & A. A high point of the evening for me was meting her, getting her to sign my First Edition copy of The Father  as well as her new book, Odes, and being able to thank her for helping me to become brave.

Her new book is all about being brave even within the parameters of form (the ode) and I discovered in these poems a bravery coupled with humor, pun, word play, and liveliness of expression. I have only read (or heard) five of these odes, but I can tell you that there is another lesson for me therein. I urge you to find a copy for yourselves and read it. If you dare. It is a risky book. But then again, why not take the risk and discover something. I look forward to another expansion for my own work, thanks to this book and thanks again to Sharon Olds.