Here is the story, now, that I want to tell you.
Early one day, a dark December morning,
we came on three young soldiers waiting outside,
pacing and swinging their arms against the cold.
They told us this: in three homes far from here
all dreamed of one day coming to Leningrad
to see the Hermitage, as they supposed
every Soviet citizen dreamed of doing.
Now they had been sent to defend the city,
a turn of fortune the three could hardly believe.
I had to tell them there was nothing to see
but hundreds and hundreds of frames where the paintings had hung.
“Please, sir,” one of them said, “let us see them.”
And so we did. It didn’t seem any stranger
than all of us being here in the first place,
inside such a building, strolling in snow.
We led them around most of the major rooms,
what they could take the time for, wall by wall.
Now and then we stopped and tried to tell them
part of what they would see if they saw the paintings.
I told them how those colors would come together,
described a brushstroke here, a dollop there,
mentioned a model and why she seemed to pout
and why this painter got the roses wrong.
from Miller Williams' poem The Curator
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Saturday, July 26, 2008
River Goddess, India, 8th-9th century, Berkeley Art Museum
They can knock off your nose
lose your makara, your tortoise,
but they cannot undo the curve of the Yamuna in your hips,
Or the globes of the world, two worlds
that are your breasts, and the Ganges of beads
running between them.
Your children are silent and moving with you.
Oh, John Keats, I am here to tell you,
you should see what she keeps in her red sandstone urn.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Saturday, July 5, 2008
Thursday, July 3, 2008
Probably one of the funniest two or three poets writing in English, Tony Hoagland is also one of the more humane, thoughtful, and helpful writers of work on how to write and read contemporary verse. His collection of essays Real Sofistikashun has a wonderful opening piece on Image, Diction and Rhetoric that I am likely to include in a future course packet. Other useful essays from the collection can be found on line.
Fragment, Juxtaposition, And Completeness: Some Notes And Preferences
How to Talk Mean and Influence People or here
Fear of Narrative and the Skittery Poem of Our Moment
Three Tenors: Glück, Hass, Pinsky, and the Deployment of Talent or here
One of my favorites is on the dilemma of Self-Consciousnes. Hoagland writes of the initial loss of innocence that comes with studying writing:
The gradual intrusion of self-consciousness is one inevitable side effect of an education in art. To read ten poems, or a hundred, is one thing. To read ten thousand is another. As we internalize more of the tradition and become progressively less shielded by our ignorance, we realize how local our upbringing has been, how much there might be to know, and perhaps even, sigh, how limited our talent. T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock comes to know that he is not Prince Hamlet; we must deal with the fact that we are not Eliot. When a person takes the step toward learning more of craft and its history, more of artifice—when, for example, a person crosses the threshold of an MFA program—she chooses to end a childhood in artlessness. She gives up some of their innocent infatuation, the naïveté, the adolescent grandiosity, maybe even some of the natural grace of the beginner. “They are good poets because they don’t know yet how hard it is to write a poem,” I have heard a teacher say, a bit tartly, of her beginning poetry class.
Yet, he goes on to point out, that is part of the necessity of poetic growth:
Self-consciousness in writing, as it does in life, open up a kind of delay between impulse and action, between thought and word. That pause—as these examples show—offers the opportunity for calculated intensifications and angularities that would never occur in “natural,” uninformed speech.
And he concludes with this helpful notion about intelligence, cleverness, and the reader:
Self-consciousness often provokes an overexertion of cleverness. But intelligence, when used well in a poem, never makes the reader feel less smart than the writer, or left behind. Rather, it gives the reader the exhilarating pleasure of being smart in concert with the speaker. . . . To learn what a poet needs to know is to become an initiate; that initiation imposes burdens as well as powers. We have the obligation to make real poems, to contribute to the living, evolving heritage of poetry. . . . Finally, if our awareness of the great Past makes us self-consciously anxious, it is good to remember that Everything has not been done. Possibility has not been exhausted. More reality is being made at the reality factory every day, and new ways to handle it are being invented—language is a technology, after all. Its adaptations are legion; its evolution is hardly over.
In the spirit of this blog, here's an excerpt from his poem Requests for Toy Piano:
Play the one about the family of the ducks
where the ducks go down to the river
and one of them thinks the water will be cold
but then they jump in anyway
and like it and splash around.
No, I must play the one
about the nervous man from Palestine in row 14
with a brown bag in his lap
in which a gun is hidden in a sandwich.
Play the one about the handsome man and woman
standing on the steps of her apartment
and how the darkness and her perfume and the beating of their hearts
conjoin to make them feel
like leaping from the edge of chance—