21 December 2012

countdown to new year's: round 2 results

Thanks to all of you who took part in this week's dates through voting, commenting, and/or sharing! This was a fun round, and the results have me extremely excited and anxious for Round 3. Check out the winners below and be sure to let me know what you thought of the poems, how you related to and/or read them, and so forth in the comments below!

:Day 1:

You said …
D.H. Lawrence & William Butler Yeats

I say …
“I agree!” As mentioned, I believe, in a comment earlier this week, I have never been a huge fan of D.H. Lawrence, but something in his poem was very powerful to me. Lawrence has the power of surprise when it comes to sensuality (more so I’d say in his poetry than his fiction, where it can be pretty blatant); while Countee Cullen’s “Lines to My Father” had what I might call more depth (in reading his history, you learn that his biological father was absent, and his adoptive father was a Methodist pastor; both histories lend fascinating lenses into the meaning of the poem), “Almond Blossom” reached into my heart and tugged through its use of repetition (the word “iron” is used more than 15 times, for example), bizarrely beautiful imagery (“Knots of pink, fish-silvery”), and so forth. What really struck me (and part of what, hopefully, the next round of “dates” will pursue further) is the way in which Lawrence both allows the reader to lose her- or himself in the poem, and seems to lose himself within its stanzas and rippling lines.

As for William Butler Yeats … This was a prime example of the serendipitous paths of pursuing poems I had not read before. Yeats falls into the category of poets I was supposed to have studied but stubbornly avoided. As an undergraduate I preferred skipping “the Classics” and examining the course of modern poetry and prose. Robert Creeley, for me, represented some of the best of the Moderns—his poem titled “The Language” is one I both love and teach.  This is one of a few cases in my own poetic history where I’ve admitted the defeat of Modern to Classic. In Yeats, the rhyme did little to sway me (when it comes to rhyme in poetry I much prefer surprise and slant to the “expected” rhyme a la sleep-deep, true-you, etc.), but the language of a love endured, the image of that “one man [who] loved the pilgrim soul in you,” was too powerful to ignore.

:Day 2:

You said …
Langston Hughes & Pablo Neruda

I say …
“We must be riding the same wavelengths.” Robert Hayden’s poem speaks of an unappreciated love, and a strange form of love shared between father and son. What draws me into that poem is the clever use of “official” language: the distance between father and son is both paralleled with and countered against the relationship between employer and employer. Think of the multitude of readings within the phrase “love’s austere and lonely offices.” Such belayed appreciation of what love means and does reads so relatably. How many of us, in youth, truly appreciate what our parents do out of love … and how many of us, when older, look back and wish we had seen that love for what it was. Despite this, it was the softer language and haunting rhythmics of Hughes’ “April Rain Song” that got me. I’m surprised, actually, because I’m not usually such a big fan of repetition; this week it’s gotten me at least twice. It’s an oddly lulling poem because there is such force behind the phrase “the rain” and yet the poem itself is almost a lullaby (it is, after all, defined as a “song” by Hughes). The poem is a contrast in sonic qualities and rhythmic effects: many of the words are strongly punctuated (rain, kiss, beat, makes, plays) yet they are softened the pulse the rhythm of those words gives the poem. And I, like Hughes, love the rain.

Selecting Pablo Neruda as the winner almost feels like a cheat. He is, after all, Pablo Neruda. His name and “love poems” seem almost synonymous. The battle between Claude McKay and Neruda was one between reality and dreams. McKay’s “After the Winter” paints a vivid world. I kept having the sense of smelling cocoa butter and tasting cool water while reading that poem. Neruda, on the other hand, painted a dreamscape. His is a perfect example of what often allures me in a poem. Oftentimes I find myself in want of words to describe how I relate to a poem; in workshops I often have to dig deep to go beyond the “I loved how this poem made me feel” comment. Yet, as a poet, it is that striving for real feeling that I often pursue. Many of my own poems are written out of an attempt to elicit not a meaning but a sense. That is what Neruda accomplishes in “Tie Your Heart at Night to Mine, Love.” There is, of course, “meaning” there—but it is the sense of the poem, the inexplicable, indescribable sensory feel of it, that let it win the day.

:Day 3:

You said …
Leopold Senghor & Arna Bontemps

I say …
“You all must be psychics.” I worried for Shel Silverstein from the very beginning. Unfortunately, despite the beautifully simplistic profoundness of “[turning] off the lights,” it was Leopold Senghor’s night scene that beat out Silverstein’s darkened rooms. Senghor’s language is sensual; lovers cradle as silence cradles as the Night is cradled on a “hill of clouds.” His poem nurtures, soothes, and surprises. It’s always funny to me how sometimes bizarre images make sense within a poem. There’s nothing all that beautiful about the image of fur-hands; “hands softer than fur” creates both a bizarre image in my mind (picture: Sasquatch), and I prefer hands a little less gentle (I don’t mean that as intimately as it might sound … I just find soft hands a little creepy). But the language, the lulling f’s and s’s, works so well. The poem is propelled by linguistic resonances: “balance” to “barely” to “breeze,” paired with the inter-lined rhyme of “trees” to “breeze” and the “image rhyme” of “hands” (appendages) to “palm” (trees), etc. It’s irresistible.

Arna Bontemps is a poet I honestly had never heard of before this challenge. I’m going to skip discussing Dylan Thomas’ poem, but what I will say is that this pairing was interesting in that both had a feeling or mention of love, but I would hardly define either as a love poem. Thomas’ poem, by its end, struck me as less memory than memoriam, an almost harsh sense of remembrance. Bontemps poem, on the other hand, seemed to speak of a haunted experience, almost nightmarish, but did it in a “softly haunting” voice. The poem speaks of a journey, and it is far from a simple or easy one. Interestingly, a lot of other readers and critics of this poem claim it is about slavery. Given the timing of the poem, however, I’d say it much more likely reflects the dawn and times of the Great Migration, the onset of the Harlem Renaissance, and the push for a deeper sense of cultural identity: there is revelation and miracle, or the prospect of it. The poem begins and ends with a storm, and they each breathe differently. The precursory storm is dark, lamented, leading into a dawn. The second is marked by “latitudes”: new places, new beginnings, freedom. It’s a poem that, for me, is so complex it haunts.


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