19 December 2012

countdown to new year's: round 2, day 3

Welcome to the third and final day of the second round of dead poet dates.

Yesterday, a reader made a comment that led me to really think about what it is with each of these twelve poets' poems that speaks to my personal poetic "dynamic": that thing that determine what I like--and love--in both my and other poets' poems. This particular thought arose out of a brief discussion--and later more deeply thought out pondering--of Claude McKay and Pablo Neruda's poetry. While tracking down McKay's poem, I found myself struck by the degrees to which so many of his poems were carried by vivid yet simple language painting realistic scenes and images. This is something that I love in both modern and classic poetry: a real engagement of simple, every day language and creating from it something new and beautiful with it. When it came to Neruda's poetry, I was similarly struck by his ability to play with sound and language to paint a fantasy world, albeit based in the physical (and sometimes, I do mean, *ahem*, physical) world. The challenge has been figuring out which elements of my personal poetic both stand out more in the selected poets' works and impact me more; I might be drawn to simplistic language but what tends to really "woo" me is a creative engagement of language. It will be interesting for me to see what elements of poetry have the greatest influence on the final winner. (It will also be interesting to see what, for you, matters the most when it comes to the poets who continue on through this "challenge.")

So, let's get started with today's dates!

The Touch, The Feel: Leopold Senghor vs Shel Silverstein

Leopold and Shel meet me just outside Philadelphia's Please Touch Museum. Known as the Children's Museum of Philadelphia, it's certainly not a typical locale for a serious poetic discussion; we each must casually ignore the looks of subtle confusion we receive from the parents and museum employees as we enter. Yet there's something strangely appropriate about the idea of "learning through play" for us as poets, and as we make our way through the exhibit halls, we are soon laughing as we experiment and play along with our surrounding children "peers." Leopold grabs a miniature shopping cart in a grocery exhibit and takes me on a stroll picking out over-sized plastic broccoli and bananas. As we "shop," Leopold recites his "Night in Sine", accompanied by the giggles of the children who "help" us fill our cart.

The poem's "pick up line": "Woman, place your soothing hands upon my brow"
The most alluring word/phrase: "milky pagne"
The most intriguing line break/enjambment: "Now the stars appear and the Night dreams / Leaning on that hill of clouds ..."
The line that says "I love you": "Hear the beat of our dark blood"
The perfect closing line for a date: "Let the rhythmic silence cradle us. / Listen to its song."

Shel spends more time playing with some of the children than with Leopold and I. It's fun to watch him let some of the smaller children climb over his shoulders to reach some of the exhibits. Eventually he guides me to the Flight Fantasy exhibit, where we stand back for a moment watching the kids engage with an interactive blue screen to explore the galaxy. As the exhibit quiets down, Shel stands us in front of the blue screen and takes us from the moon to Pluto. We stand on the rings of Saturn as he recites his "No Difference".

The poem's "pick up line": "We're all worth the same / When we turn off the light."
The most alluring word/phrase: "turn off the light"
The most intriguing line break/enjambment: "So maybe the way / To make everything right"
The line that says "I love you": "We all look the same / When we turn off the light"
The perfect closing line for a date: "We're all the same size / When we turn off the light"

Which poet has what it takes to "touch" your heart?
pollcode.com free polls 
Into the Wild: Arna Bontemps vs Dylan Thomas

I think the flight from Philadelphia to Phoenix will make me drowsy, but as Arna, Dylan and I travel to the Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Camp Verde I find myself getting more and more excited. The three of us debate the merits and morals of such an animal preserve; while we all agree on the conservation efforts, there is some debate on whether or not these animals actually "belong" in this Arizona home. Arna shares the story of his work creating a history of the black race from Egyptian civilization forward and wonders how these creatures--which he says figure as part of that story and mythos--might serve as a symbol of African diaspora. It is just as we begin seeing the first signs for the park that he recites "Reconnaissance", for which he receives a small round of applause from the others sharing our transport.

The poem's "pick up line": "there were we // in latitudes where storms are born"
The most alluring word/phrase: "fronds of silence"
The most intriguing line break/enjambment: "and the tried moment waits, its courage gone-- / there were we"
The line that says "I love you": "we cried for the new revelation / and waited for miracles to rise."
The perfect closing line for a date: "Alone with the shore and the harbor, / the stems of the cocoanut trees"

As we enjoy the preserve, Dylan reads aloud the story of a rescued tiger housed at the refuge that was, as he puts it, saved by relearning how to play. He asks, half to himself, if it isn't an accurate picture of the writing life, too, to discover life as writers by relearning how to play. As we roll by various animals in our tour bus, Dylan recites his "This Is Remembered". Like Arna, he receives a gentle applause from the other patrons who ride along with us.

The poem's "pick up line": "The smelling of roses; the first cigarette;"
The most alluring word/phrase: "the first womb"
The most intriguing line break/enjambment: "In the beginning / Was the word, the word began / In sleep ..."
The line that says "I love you": "This is remembered when the hairs drop out; / Love, like a stone, that struck and hurt;"
The perfect closing line for a date: "Remember sleep ..."

Which poet has your heart roaring like a lion?
pollcode.com free polls 

Your Turn: After reading each poet's poem, which ones struck you the most? What lines, words, and phrases stood out to you? How do these poets play with your sense of what makes poetry "good"?


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Check out (and vote for!) the previous dates of Round 2 in the Our Lost Jungle Countdown to New Year's:


  1. I was sure I'd vote for Silverstein. I love to laugh and so much of his work is humorous. But when I read Night in Sein by Léopold Sédar Senghor it blew me away. There are so many good line. The whole first stanza just rocks!


    Now the stars appear and the Night dreams
    Leaning on that hill of clouds, dressed in its long, milky pagne. The roofs of the huts shine tenderly. What are they saying So secretly to the stars?

    let me learn to live Before plunging deeper than the diver Into the great depths of sleep.

    And as a whole there is a mood and feeling that is created. The words just get inside you and swim around.

  2. I'm still deciding between Dylan and Bontemps

  3. OK. After reading them both several times I've got to go with Bontemps. Don't ask me why because I am not even sure. It just seems more expressive and in a style I like better than the Dylan poem.

  4. Thanks for all your feedback, Linda! I was worried for dear Shel coming into this round ... We'll see how things play out on Friday! :)


Thank you so much for your comments! Please feel free to share your thoughts here; I look forward to engaging in conversation with you!

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