March 22, 2010
Ai, another great poet has died, and from a disease that meanders and shreds the fullness of life. Here is an in memoriam at Best American Poetry by Jerry Williams to spell it out for you.
Here is an essay I wrote some years back, when I first really started studying poetry in Goddard’s MFA program (thanks to Bea Gates for pointing me in Ai’s direction). I remember how much I loved studying the fierce verse, the women characters in this poetry, and what some women poets were effortlessly saying in their work about love, death, truth, and the power of a woman’s essence, even in a person’s memory: Ai is/was one such poet!
A Husband’s Despair Seen through Symbolism: Ai’s “Immortality”
In her book Sin (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1986), Ai gathers an array of characters using dramatic monologue. I am immediately reminded of some of Frank Bidart’s poems, and the idea of characters “living” in poetry looms in my mind. The birth, rebirth, and reincarnation of personalities intrigues every reader, and in Ai’s poem “Immortality,” not only do readers see the personality of the main male character, but they also feel his love for the dead woman character, who is seen only in his memory.
This poem, which can clearly be considered a persona poem, is also a love poem packed with symbolism. Every time I read it, I understand a little more of the underlying issue: the love of a man toward his wife who has killed herself, “giving it all up with [her] poison” (lines 33-34). What causes me to feel the husband’s anger and disappointment despite his love is Ai’s use of symbolism within the dramatic monologue.
In each of the three stanzas, Ai leaves readers with an extended picture of a husband’s feelings about the death of his wife. Her male speaker begins, “I dreamed I was digging a grave / that kept filling with water. / The next day you died” (1-3). Ai presents an image of loss right from the beginning of the poem, yet immediately readers feel more than the heartache of the speaker. Even though in a dream, the speaker’s attempt to dig a grave, as it fills with water rather than remains hollow to make room for a coffin, symbolizes his feelings of disappointment and defeat, and we see more of this as the poem unfolds.
With feelings of disappointment continuing in stanza two, the speaker reflects on the days in which he and the woman met, parted, and found each other again:
I thought of the Great War;
the day we met.
And just like that, we parted.
Then one day you found me hoeing potatoes.
Let me help, you said,
and handed me a child
with bright red hair like yours.
I married you. We fought.
Blood sanctifies and blesses;
Anna, where are you now? —
waltzing down a long mirrored corridor,
wrapped in glory that is red, bitter. (10-11, 21-31)
Here readers understand the depth of the speaker’s initial loss because they see that he has married the woman and taken in her child; they are blood to him, relatives by choice. Looking more closely at the lines, we also find the symbolism that Ai places within her character’s memory. The husband searches for his wife, Anna, through the closeness that has bound them, but he is lost. She has disappointed and angered him with her absence. The “long mirrored corridor” the husband refers to is Anna’s death—a death by choice as she “waltzes down” it without turmoil or remorse. Furthermore, it is the resentment of her husband and her own sin that dress her at the end of this stanza, as she is “wrapped in glory that is red, bitter,” symbolic to a robe of a sinful death caused by suicide.
The last stanza not only conveys a husband’s disappointment in and anger toward his wife but also unveils his love for her that will be with him forever. Throughout the poem the speaker references potatoes, a symbol itself. And each mention connects to his wife in some way: either he anticipates eating one as he digs her grave (stanza one), he is hoeing them when he and Anna meet again after being apart (stanza two), or finally biting one after throwing dirt on her coffin (stanza three). Therefore, potatoes, like Anna, are extremely important to him, and Ai’s use of this connection is most profound at the poem’s close. The last image of the speaker biting a potato epitomizes a husband’s degree of angry surrender to a woman, a wife he was not ready to give up, who selfishly chose to leave him. The speaker shares his sorrow:
I can’t forgive your [his wife’s] going.
I take the potato from my pocket.
One bite, then another,
if only this were all it took
to live forever.
With each bite, the husband hopes for a lasting connection to his dead wife, realizing that the potato is really all he has to help him hold onto his memory of her. The potato becomes her, alive and in his grasp, yet, ironically, he understands that it, too, will decay or be devoured with no chance of preventing its inevitable end as well.
Ai’s use of symbolism leaves a lasting impact on me, and I do not think I will ever look at a potato quite the same again. The poet does not center on the object itself to remind the reader of its presence; the potato is the catalyst for the theme of death/immortality that underlies the poem and the speaker’s monologue. The potato is what is left to hold onto by Ai’s readers and her speaker, but it is what cannot be touched that leaves us thinking, the symbol behind the potato.
A friend and wonderful lady, Julia Rimsky Baumann, got her first tattoo a little while back; and I thought I’d see what she had to say about her experience.
So in Q&A form, here you go!
Which tattoo artist at the Baltimore Tattoo Museum did your tattoo?
Did you research before picking this tattoo artist and tattoo shop, was the artist/shop recommended to you, or did you just walk in? If you researched then made an appointment, was their a wait list, or were you able to get an appointment pretty quickly?
I went to the Baltimore Tattoo Museum because it was recommended to me by a close friend. I went online and checked out the artists. The owner was first recommended to me, but when I checked out his artwork, I wasn’t so impressed. But when I saw Laura’s art I was blown away. She has incredible attention to detail, and that’s what was important to me since this will probably be the only tattoo I’ll ever get. I wanted it to be as perfect as possible.
I called the shop on the one “clear-ish” day between blizzards and made an appointment to see Laura that day as soon as I could get there. Because of the crappy roads and crappier parking, it took me about 90 minutes to actually get in the door.
Eleanor Roosevelt said these words that make your tattoo. Any special reason why you chose this saying that you’d like to share?
Eleanor Roosevelt was (and is, because her spirit lives on) a profound and impactful woman. This particular quote has helped me be brave when I wanted to be a coward and has helped make me into the person I am today. Every time I read the quote to myself I feel strong again.
Anything else about the design that you’d like to share: the yellow flames, the pentagram within the circle?
The flames are both a symbol of strength and also of the need to burn away the old and make room for the new. The pentagram is a connection to my spirituality as a witch and is also a symbolic connection to the Earth (the pentagram is always in the northern position on an altar, which is the position for Earth), and the Earth is the strongest physical thing in existence, I think.
Overall, did you enjoy the experience? Would you get more tattoos? Anything else about the experience that you’d like to share.
The experience was peaceful and smooth. It didn’t hurt much, and felt more like someone was dragging a wooden stick across my skin. The only parts that got a little sore were the flames because there are actually 5 layers of colors there, and by layer 5 it began to feel like someone was rubbing a Brillo pad across sunburn.
I might get one more tattoo someday, but it took me 10 years to get this one, so the next one might take another 10!
Did you take some time to look at the Baltimore Tattoo Museum’s tattoo exhibit while you were there? If so, anything stand out for you as you looked through electric tattoo history?
The Tattoo Museum was covered with pictures of the art of famous and infamous tatttoo artists. It was interesting and a little disturbing. Tattooing is a rather dark art and some of the artwork reflects that. It was a small but clean space and the artists were nice and polite. But there was still an air of badassness that probably makes the place, and the art of tattooing, appealing to a lot of people.
Personally, I didn’t get the tattoo to be a badass. I just wanted Eleanor’s words to be on my skin, with me always, as they have been for many years, just in a pretty and different way.
Thanks so much, Julia, for sharing this with HRR! ________________________________________________________________________________________________________
If you have a tattoo story that you’d like to share, please give us a shout, and thanks for reading!
Jayanta Mahapatra, award-winning Indian poet shares reasons for writing: his childhood, his land, his people
February 17, 2010
Jha (left) with Mahapatra taken by Sujeet Kumar Jha
As part of his research, Jha interviewed Mahapatra this November and in February asked Holly Rose Review (HRR) to consider publishing the piece. HRR is honored to feature Jha’s interview, edited by Theresa Senato Edwards.
Here is Jha’s brief preface:
Jayanta Mahapatra needs little introduction. There are many features which make him distinct from his contemporaries: he is the most prolific poet in the history of Indian English Poetry, he belongs to a poor and middle class family, he is a scholar from a science background, he is the first poet to receive the Sahitya Akademi Award in Indian English Poetry, he is a poet who commands more respect overseas than at home, and he has a profundity of images and symbols in his poetry.
He is in his nineties, and he has been a chronic patient of asthma and recurrent migraines. Moreover, after the passing of his wife, the late Runu Mahapatra, last year, he is internally shaken and weakened, as they were an ideal and exemplary couple. After meeting with him, I spoke to his maidservant who had been serving Mahapatra and his wife for years regarding how Mahapatra feels about the absence of his wife. She said he wept bitterly when his wife died, and even now he bursts into tears occasionally in her loving memory.
An excerpt of Mahapatra and Jha’s conversation:
In the book, “Door of Paper: Essays and Memoirs,” are all the essays and articles written by you available?
Not all, but most of them are available.
Your theme of poetry is similar to that of your essays and articles?
Yah, all [about] my childhood.
You have somewhere talked about A. K. Ramanujan.
Yes, he was idealistic and [a] very good writer.
It is he whom you like most?
In the book, “History of Indian English Literature,” authored by M. K. Naik, Naik mentions that contemporary Indian poets who made names in Indian and English poetry have gotten their first book published by P. Lal. Is it true?
It is true because all these people were published by P. Lal. He also has done a very good job, very good humanitarian job. We can’t deny it. Giving encouragement to new writers is something not many people have done.
The very titles of your books of poetry bear significance of bleakness and barrenness. Is there vested interest in doing that?
No, it came on its own.
What are the works you are at present busy with?
At present I am writing my autobiography in Oriya. At least one part I want to publish latest by June, if I am living (smiling). After I finish it, I will publish a new book of English poems. So let me see what happens.
In your autobiography, you write about your life up until 1989. Are you planning to write or have written about yourself after that?
I have written [a] small portion of my autobiography because an American encyclopedia wanted it for a living contemporary writers [section], but now I am writing [my] autobiography in Oriya. It’s being serialized in a magazine.
It is after 1989?
No, no, no, it’s about my childhood and early days.
Has it been published?
I am just writing it now. Only three [parts] have come out. Next will come out soon. One by one in a series, I am trying to write. I don’t know. I can’t tell of tomorrow. But I am trying to do whatever I can. It’s all about my childhood, my youth, and my days at Patna.
What would be your advice to the budding poet?
Write whatever you feel, feel from your heart, from your inside. One thing will also help you. Tilt to a little higher level. If we can go somewhat towards God in the guise of writing–If we can, that should be our goal. Don’t you think so? Your conscience and soul search good things. And when you go about writing a poem as a priest offers the God by picking and choosing the flowers, so we should do with words.
To whom do you dedicate your success as a poet?
It’s my wife.
I would like to know about your reaction on the talk of you being the father of modern and post-modern Indian English poetry.
No, no. I write what I can. I don’t think about it
Is Chandrabhaga [a literary magazine] still publishing or not?
We are not publishing it now. I didn’t have time. I didn’t have the money involved for publishing. All these sorts of problems to take over. That’s why we stopped it.
In a country of more than one billion people, a magazine such as Chandrabhaga had come to cease publication. In your view what is the fate and future of Indian English poetry?
Graphic magazines, fashion magazines, movie magazines, you can only get funding. Otherwise nobody is purchasing a literary periodical. Not only in India, I think this is the case of every where in the world. But especially in India, we have too much emphasis on film and fashion.
What was your main source of inspiration?
Main source of inspiration: my land, my people, my place, what I see, what social injustice I see, and political injustice. I should like to write about the hunger. I think Orissa is one of the very, very, very, very poor states, very poor. You go inside the villages; you will see they [the villagers] don’t have places to live in. They don’t have a roof over their heads. They don’t have rice to eat. And only politicians can find out which things are there. During election time they do visit the villages once, and the next five years nothing happens. The same poverty, they sell their children to keep their own stomachs. Mothers sell their daughters; fathers sell their daughters. Even today it’s happening. Especially in Orissa and the interior of India.
You have talked about some emerging poets from the North-East region.
There are some good and young poets especially from Meghalay, Mizoram, and also in Arunachal Pradesh.
Earlier such talents were not there in that region. How now do such things happen to be?
See, there is tension there in North-East. If you have no tension, you can’t write well. If you have tension, you can bring about your feelings well. Unless you have failure, suffering, and sorrows in your life, how can you write? If you have enough to eat, enough money, a good house and a car, why will you write? What will you write about? You have no problems to write about! If you have problems–may be racial problems, religious problems, hunger problems and social problems. Problems will lead you to think. Unless you think you can’t write, ideas will not come in your mind. For ideas you need the images to supplement your ideas. So all things make a certain cycle that is necessary. It begins only when you have certain problems in your life to start writing poetry.
You have talked about one poet from Kolkota.
You talk about Rudhra Kinshuk. I like this poet. Young boy and he makes good use of new images. I like when you put a new type of image in the poem.
What do you mean by new images? Innovation should be extracted from new inventions, science, and technology?
New images mean you try to bring about something that never happened or has never been done by some other poets before you. There was a great Urdu poet from the Allahabad side, Faiz Ahmad Faiz. He used to write, “I want to drink through eyes not by lips.” Something new like this.
© Vivekanand Jha, 2010
Jha’s blog: vjha33.blogspot.com
It is also important to note Mahapatra’s most recent awards: India’s Padma Shree Award, 2009, and the Allen Tate Award, The Sewanee Review, 2009.
I wrote this a couple or so years ago. I post it today in memory of a fine poet.
In Lucille Clifton’s book The Book of Light, the poet covers many thought-provoking ideas using clean, crisp lines. And although it appears a reader could quickly devour each poem in this collection, I find myself going back and rereading because there is so much more to savor in every one.
What is extremely clever are the ways in which Clifton uses her titles to begin some of her poems. One poem, in particular, titled “still there is mercy, there is grace,” begins right from its title and continues smoothly through to the end of the fifth line:
still there is mercy, there is grace [title]
could I have come to this
marble spinning in space
propelled by the great
thumb of the universe? (lines 1-5)
These beginning lines also make ingenious use of alliteration and what Ron Padgett refers to as “[a]lliterative effect […] “when the repeated sound is neither stressed nor initial” (9). We see this latter technique in Clifton’s use of the words “grace,” “otherwise,” “this,” “space,” and “universe.” The repeated “s” sounds in these words are found at their ends, with “space” having the repeated sound at the beginning and end. This effect helps the title connect with the lines and helps the text glide along the page.
Furthermore, the “s” sound is a sharp yet powerful contrast to the sounds of the other words in the lines that intentionally stand out: “marble,” “propelled,” “great,” and “thumb.” Thus, the interchanging of soft and hard sounds creates a strong voice for the speaker. This is what Clifton intends and carries through to the poem’s end to convey the poem’s underlying focus: the humble power of God’s caring compassion.
With this in mind, the juxtaposition of soft/hard sounds makes sense as Clifton continues using similar phrasing, beginning with a phrase repetition and ending with another question:
could the two roads
of this tongue
converge into a single
The two different sounds (soft/hard) heard in the words “otherwise”/“could,” “two”/”roads,” “this”/”tongue,” and “converge”/”single” represent two different languages or differences in general, like “the two roads / of this tongue” that Clifton addresses. Yet, in these lines, she unites the dichotomy, proclaiming God’s grace without questioning his power, as she does in the first few lines and intimately shows in her last lines.
The poet continues, again beginning with repetition and juxtaposing opposite sounds:
could I, a sleek old
curl one day safe and still
at Your feet, perhaps,
but, amen, Yours. (11-17)
The harsh sound in “could” mimics “converge” in the previous lines, connects to “curl,” here, and continues to balance the magnitude of not only Clifton’s words but also her faith in God. She leaves her readers involved in an image of opposites, of small and large, of God and human, rejoicing in the fact that no matter the degree of contrast, there is compassion and comfort both at the beginning of life, seen at the poem’s start; during life’s struggles, seen mid-poem; and at the end of life, seen here.
It is obvious that Clifton’s faith is strong, yet she does not preach in “still there is mercy, there is grace.” She skillfully communicates her faith through her craft, using the sound of words.
Clifton, Lucille. The Book of Light. Port Townsend: Copper Canyon, 1993.
Padgett, Ron, ed. The Teachers & Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms. New York: Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 1987.
February 8, 2010
The mission of Poetry Super Highway is “to expose as many people to as many other people’s poetry as possible.” The reason for the poetry exchange is to get poets from around the globe to share their poetry books.
I love this idea and would love to see poets at all stages of their writing/publishing careers share their work.
Since I’ve started Holly Rose Review, I’ve realized that many poets worldwide, whether just emerged in their passion for words or already diligent veterans of the craft, are humble, kind people. What better way to keep that kindness going than to send a book and get a book in return!
And that’s what the poetry exchange is all about. It’s a great free exchange of poetry publications among poets worldwide. And what better month to swap than February!
Lupert states, “It’s not a contest. There are no judges, entry fees, winners, or losers. Last year, 92 poets participated both sending their book and receiving another poet’s book from a randomly selected other participant.”
It’d be great to see that participant amount double this year!
All the details are here: http://poetrysuperhighway.com/pshgpe.html.
Check it out, swap your book, and get a book back–all for the love of poetry!
Hey, and HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY a little early.
January 31, 2010
For those of you who didn’t know this, Duotrope’s Digest, “a free writers’ resource listing over 2800 current Fiction and Poetry publications,” has a theme and deadline calendar found here: http://duotrope.com/themecal.aspx.
It’s a great compilation of upcoming publication submission deadlines, dealines for contests, which, by the way, Duotrope only lists “contests that don’t charge entry/reading fees,” and a listing of mag themes, if applicable. You can also subscribe to this information using the site’s RSS 2.0 feeds.
There are more than 50 mags listed with today and tomorrow deadlines for both poetry and fiction. Many mags look for art submissions, too! So if you want to submit your work or have work that fits with certain themes, check out Duotrope’s Theme and Deadline Calendar ASAP and see how much easier keeping track of submission deadlines can be.
If you knew about this, great! We here at HRR hope you’re using it!!!
Happy January 31 and Happy Submitting!
January 15, 2010
Last April, Bill Cohen, author of Tattoosday, a blog dedicated to a plethera of tattoo-related info, honored National Poetry Month 2009 by featuring daily posts of tattoos on poets.
Each poet shared his or her tattoo(s) and a poem that was or wasn’t tattoo-related.
Some of last year’s contributors to the Tattooed Poet’s Project included Joy Harjo, Kim Addonizio, Eileen Myles, Jill Alexander Essbaum, Rebecca Loudon, Mike Sikkema, and Gina Myers, to name just a few.
Well, this year Bill is looking for more poets to share their ink and words to honor National Poetry Month 2010.
Now you know when I got his e-mail, I responded immediately. I think his project is a great thing. It reminds me a little of Ernesto Priego’s blog, Tattoo Poetics, which is now, unfortunately, defunked. It’s also another place where poetry & tattoo art can be enjoyed together–something I feel very strongly about.
Anyway, Bill writes in his e-mail, “Like last year, I’m reaching out through Facebook to find tattooed poets for this year’s project. . . . If you are inked and interested, please let me know and we can start the process of creating your entry in the 2010 Tattooed Poet’s Project. If you don’t have tattoos, or you do and this is just not your cup of tea, please pass this appeal on to those poets you may know who might be interested.”
So if you’re interested or know of anyone who is, here’s his e-mail: email@example.com. Or find him on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/bill.cohen#/bill.cohen?v=wall.
And cheers to poetry & tattoos!!!
December 27, 2009
I’ve used it in a couple of my classes at Marist College, and I’ve written about a few of the poems in the collection. I have to be honest; it’s a phenomenal poetry book and a raw and moving verse novel for adults. Even Addonizio’s “sequel” to Jimmy & Rita (BOA Editions, 1997), her novel My Dreams Out in the Street, (Simon & Schuster, 2007) just doesn’t live up to the wonderful language and uncontrived story of her verse novel.
Addonizio’s Jimmy & Rita quickly moves us through the love of two characters, using one- or two-paged poems to tell stories, capture character traits, and convey situations or scenes that deal with Jimmy’s and Rita’s lives. At about midway through the collection, Addonizio places a poem titled “Silk.” In this poem, the poet uses dialogue exclusively between her main characters to reveal a truth of mortality: that no matter who we are or what we do, we will all face death and accept or deny it individually.
The lives of Jimmy and Rita shown throughout Addonizio’s book reveal youth, fearlessness, and spontaneity. However, almost as a slow reprieve amid the surrounding quickness of each “exterior” poem, “Silk” provides us with a longer resonance, an “interior” communication of some mirror images of youth, fearlessness, and spontaneity. “Silk” conveys death, fear, and reflection/contemplation.
We see Jimmy and Rita discussing death, sharing their fear of it, and reflecting on their beliefs in what the “afterlife” means to them. Using lines only of dialogue throughout this poem—which is the only dialogue-only poem of the entire collection—Addonizio captures universal human conditions through the conversation of two lost souls, her main characters.
The poem begins with Jimmy’s question to Rita, “Rita. You ever think about dying?” (line 1). Jimmy is serious even though he has lived his life vicariously up until this point and will continue to do so throughout the rest of the book.
He initiates a conversation with Rita about mortality, subtly admitting his concern for something other than parties, sex, and good times. Here we see seriousness through an intimate, intellectual, and spiritual interaction between the main characters. Rita responds to Jimmy’s question:
I don’t like to. […]
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Diane [Rita’s best friend] told me once to imagine a bird holding a silk scarf in its
beak and brushing it across the top of a mountain. As long as it takes the scarf to wear down the mountain, that’s how many times
we come back. (2, 15-18)
Rita shares a profound image and idea with Jimmy as their conversation focuses not only on death and dying but also on the possibility of existence after death. To present these very serious matters of mortality, Addonizio skillfully uses an intimate scene held together by dialogue. If the poet had presented the age-old questions of death and the afterlife amid any of the other poems in her book, it would have been cliché.
Throughout the collection, especially before “Silk,” before we realize that Jimmy and Rita really do have normal, legitimate concerns about life, any mention of dying is skewed with a single voice of fearlessness coming from either Rita or Jimmy.
Even in “Her Voice,” where Rita talks of Jimmy’s restless nights in which “[h]e wakes up […] sure / he’s dying, the air close, / panic making it harder / just to breathe” (12-15), Addonizio captures the fear of mortality almost from afar as Rita witnesses only what she thinks Jimmy feels.
In “Silk” the interaction of Jimmy and Rita is real, so is their conversation about dying and what may lie beyond the physical. They speak to each other, question each other’s beliefs, and come to their own terms, whether it is to accept or deny the inevitable end.
As Jimmy and Rita move closer together on a more intimately spiritual level, the conversation slows; the words are more reserved and polite. Jimmy suggests, “Rita. […] / Let’s not die” (24, 26). Her comforting response, “Go to sleep, baby. We won’t” (27), ends the discourse.
This intertwining of empathy and emotion works because of dialogue. The rhythm slows because of dialogue, and we realize that if two young, careless free spirits ponder the inevitable, we have no choice but to question our own mortality as well.
Addonizio has captured not only the harshness of street life in Jimmy & Rita, but she has also planted a profound sense of spiritual awareness within “Silk,” the book’s core.
If you’ve never read this book, I suggest you read it soon!
And please let us know your favorite verse novel(s). I’m still looking for the gutsy ones…
 This can be seen in “Dead Men,” page 17.
December 18, 2009
Mark Doty’s book School of the Arts (New York: HarperCollins, 2005; London: Jonathan Cape, 2005) is a delightful array of thought-provoking poems, some of which tell great stories. His “Letter to God,” in particular, has a great underlying story about why dogs sniff each other’s rear ends.
In fact, Doty’s thematic thread in this book is dogs: his perception of dogs, especially his own pets. To write “the poetry of dogs” with so much insight into their nature and instinct is not an easy task, yet Doty masterfully shares with his readers some truly profound realities and even absurd possibilities of dogs, to Doty, a rare species.
There is one series, “The Vault,” that almost doesn’t fit because of its sexual nature (most of the other poems are not sexual). However, it makes its way among the others, showing an animalistic nature of humans, another species visited in this book.
More specifically, I begin to understand the collection as a whole when I see the mixture of instincts, both human and animal. One poem, in particular, that really elaborates on this mix is Doty’s “The Pink Poppy.” This piece is inspiring, as it takes the concept of beauty (what could be considered cliché) and explodes its meaning into places never gone before in quite the way that Doty writes them—places engulfed by human, animal, and even plant instincts.
Doty uses distinct imagery to open up all possibilities to write unconventionally about beauty. And he floods the page with the color and strength of the poppy, showing its own form of beauty in relation to the frail innocence of his dog, which Doty also sees as beautiful. Doty writes:
Poor Arden’s [his dog] hiding under my desk;
when the thunder comes he seems to constrict himself,
and then a few moments later he’s breathing heavily,
deaf as he is, holding himself taut in vigilance.
The poppy’s erect
and undulant in the rain;
a sort of terrestrial jellyfish,
wavering blot like a shape on an old film,
light spot in the eye after something bright,
ragged central polyp of seed
—dark nipple-colored anemone—
held up like a sexual display . . .
Blake: Exuberance is Beauty. (lines 18-30)
Along side Doty’s dog, Arden, we see the triumph of the poppy as Doty’s metaphors paint not only a colorful picture but also share with readers the fact that strength and acceptance of place are beautiful. Unlike Arden, who in his instinctive innocence, tries to remove himself from the storm, the poppy accepts its place and remains beautiful despite its surrounding elements. To Doty, the poppy displays a true sense of exuberance—a youthful energy that can physically withstand certain circumstances —as he ends this section quoting William Blake’s definition of beauty.
And Doty builds from these images, using metaphor to present other forms of beauty that are linked to instinct. He reminds us about time and our instinct to question its hold on life:
Dangerous, to hate the thing that brings you all of this:
that flower wouldn’t blaze if time didn’t burn,
my golden dog rusting now under the roof of the garden
wouldn’t have been either—no flecked ruffle
of the jowl, inner lip pink and loose . . .
And Arden: old pink muzzle sniffing now at the rain.
Brief, but no one wishes it never. (41-47)
The flower cannot question time; it only becomes more beautiful before dying because of time. Doty’s dog, too, cannot query what time has done to his body and his stamina. Therefore, the dog, like the poppy accepts the circumstances. Even the instinct of humans is to accept time’s burning motion. Like the lifespan of the flower and the dog, our lives, too, may be considered “[b]rief, but no one wishes it never.” No one who has truly seen and felt the beauty that Doty writes of in this poem wishes to argue the dichotomy of time’s existence: that with time an essence grows aware and becomes beautiful, yet with time that life also becomes frail and dies.
We can accept the dualism in this poem, in particular, because of Doty’s use of metaphor. He understands our instinct to question the attributes of time, yet because time is an abstraction, Doty provides us with clear pictures of the poppy, his dog, even the rain. His lines are clear, and his comparisons unique. We accept what Doty says about beauty, and he does not rehash age-old philosophies. He compares the simplest of life—a flower’s short show of exuberance and a dog’s aging—to the most profound—acceptance of death and acceptance of life.
Doty, Mark. School of the Arts. New York: HarperCollins, 2005.
This poem can also be found in Doty’s book, Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems (New York: HarperCollins, April, 2008), for which he won the National Book Award for Poetry in 2008.
December 6, 2009
Christine Klocek-Lim’s chapbook, How to photograph the heart, has just been released from The Lives You Touch Publications, and it’s a wonderful collection that stings and calms us at the same time.
Klocek-Lim has been my friend for a few years, and her poem “Endearment” was featured in HRR’s June 2009 issue. But she is so much more!
She is a wonderful poet, photographer, and editor (her online poetry journal, Autumn Sky Poetry, is superb). She’s also a great mother and wife, and I’m sure she “plays” many other roles as well. She’s an inspiration!
It would make a wonderful gift this holiday season, as it shares so much hope amid the raw reality that comes with loving, losing, and remembering.
The title poem,
How to photograph the heartYou remember how the lens squeezed unimportant details into stillness: the essential trail of rain down glass, the plummet of autumn-dead leaves, your grandfather’s last blink when the breath moved on. Your startled hands compressed the shutter when you realized: this is it, this is the last movement he will take away from the silent fall of morphine, beyond the soft gasp of the nurse, past the sick, slow thud of your heart moving in the luminous silence.
Please check it out, and let us know what you think!
The very best to everyone, and HAPPY HOLIDAYS from Holly Rose Review!