|Countdown to New Year's: Round 1, Day 3|
Cuney VS Chaucer
Today’s dates are steeped in silent tones as my poets and I meet up at a sprawling yet somehow intimate art and history museum. Upon entering the museum I find myself surrounded by massive paintings and towering sculptures, and it is with a sudden surprise that I realize one of the seeming sculptures is actually William Cuney. He stands silently, a study of stillness, in the middle of the floor gazing with idle awareness at a large painting, what might be a modern interpretation of Van Gogh’s famous starry night. I think William doesn’t notice me until he leans slightly toward me and says, in a whisper, “You could almost dive right in.” We move to gaze at a statue that William says reminds him “of jazz,” and he pauses to tap out the unheard rhythm first on his own knee, then on my shoulder. We move to a bench and sit, and after a few minutes he says, still in his whispered tone, “I don’t mingle with people much these days.” We sit and stare at each other, and the art, and the passing people, in silence. He continues to tap out rhythms, spoken to him by the art, by the meter of passing footsteps, until finally he leans in and says, “That one there was a sonnet.” We both laugh.
Geoffrey Chaucer joins us and sits on my opposite side. He, too, seems drawn in by the art, and spends much of the time wondering at some of the pieces he calls the most realistic sketches he has ever seen—William and I laugh and try to explain the photographs to him, and he laughs, too, calling it all “ridiculous.” Geoffrey is lighter in mood than William, engaging us in his own imagined tales of the stories behind many of the pieces we see. He seems to delight in weaving the tales of why many of the sculptures have been caught in what he imagines to be a shame-faced state of undress, and imagining the unseen tales occurring just below the framed views of the paintings and photographs. Soon we are all stifling giggles.
The playful poets walk me to the entrance of a Hall of Mammals exhibit where I am to meet the next two suitors. As we part ways, William slips a copy of “No Images” into my hand, and Geoffrey pretends to pull a copy of his “To Rosemounde: A Balade” from my hair.
Seuss VS Schuyler
The first thing I see when I walk into the Hall of Mammals is a strangely out of place man frozen in mid-conversation with some kind of stork. I grin and lean on the exhibit barrier, which Theodor Seuss Geisel has clearly ignored. After a few amusing moments of watching him stand so perfectly still, Theodor finally turns his head, gives a little wink, and strolls over to climb back across the little wall meant to separate spectators from the exhibit. As we walk and talk about the various animals—from lions and bears to cavemen to a display of dinosaurs he finds extremely amusing—Theodor is free with his speech, frequently changing the topic so we discuss everything from poetry to soccer and back, with not-infrequent jokes sprinkled in.
We are joined by James Schuyler as we reach an exhibit on lizards; Theodor scurries off, claiming he must have words with a rather large tortoise at the far end of the room. James watches him bustle away with silent amusement before turning and asking if I’ve heard about his “near death experience.” Our conversation focuses mainly on the animals surrounding us, the mildly disturbing gazes of the taxiderms and sculptures, and poetry in general. I’m not surprised by James turning the conversation outward; I’ve been told by a few who knew him, including Barbara Guest, that he is one who “withholds his secrets.” He asks if I would mind steering us forward toward one of the exhibits of paintings, and I readily agree. We spend some time studying and sharing our critiques of the art while each of us tries to pretend we don’t notice Theodor wandering in the background composing little poems for each of the paintings he passes.
When we say our goodbyes, James gives me a neatly typed copy of “Can I Tempt You to a Pond Walk?” Theodor has half-wandered off before he remembers to run back and hand me a copy of his “Too Many Daves.”
Tolson VS Rilke
The day ends at the planetarium, where I meet Melvin B. Tolson just as the first projected stars begin to light the domed sky of the exhibit room. Melvin sits with his hands crossed behind his head, gazing up and pointing out constellations as though we sit on a hill outside staring at a real sky. He notes how for all the differences among the people of the earth, we all share the same sky. As the pseudo-sky above us slowly turns and shifts the pallet of stars, he speaks of his time in Liberia, his poetic style, and his views of humanity in parts and as a whole. He recites lines of his work and composes new verses for the changing sky above us.
Rainer Maria Rilke slips in quietly in the midst of one of Melvin’s compositions and listens with soft “Hm”s and “Ah”s as Melvin weaves verse on the spot. Rainer joins the game, crafting a narrative of space and stars that seems to take us through an expansive universe while keeping us pinned to our seats in the small room. After the small game of composition has ended between them, Rainer shares folk songs and stories of Germany and Italy with us. He speaks of art as religion, and drifts into a monologue on natures ever-expanding realm of beauty, wondering often how society can abandon the temple born of trees for the man-made architecture that pales in comparison. We spend what feels like an eternity wrapped in too few minutes just sitting and gazing up at the false stars, before eventually abandoning our indoor shelter for the true night sky just outside.
When we finally part ways, Melvin hands me a copy of “A Song for Myself,” while Rainer gifts a copy of “Song of the Dwarf.”
Your Turn: Which three poets should be this day’s winners? Which poems stood out to you? Which lines, phrases, or words? Which poets’ styles did you find most, or least, appealing? Share your thoughts and cast your votes in the comments below, and help me pick the winners of the day!
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