Saturday, March 15, 2014

Short Takes on Two Recent Books

The Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog, by Alicia Suskin Ostriker

Each poem in this book is comprised of three speakers, the Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog, and each speaker always speaks in this order, although the Dog does not always get the last word, so to speak.  The Old Woman speaks of human concerns, the Tulip is the voice of Beauty, and the Dog speaks for the animal.  Yet they also speak of what they are, woman, flower, dog, just themselves, if those selves could all cogently speak. The trio discuss God, Love, Death, the nature of Man.  I thought I'd had other books by Ostriker on my shelf, but I can't find any now.  I do remember using her book Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Women’s Poetry in America when writing some papers in grad school. This one will remain on my shelf--I love the interplay of the three voices, how their conversations open up the world, and how, when you listen to speakers who are good at arguing their case, your loyalties and opinions shift and change like leaves in the wind.

Here is one of the shorter poems in this collection:

Soften and Melt

The man man made me soften and melt
said the old woman.

The bee made me shiver like a rag
said the dark red tulip.

The bitch made me push
said the dog.

Bay of Angels, by Diane Wakoski

Why do we chew again and again on the bones of old wrongs?  Why are we (are some of us, many of us, most of us?) haunted by old love, love gone wrong, ancient betrayals, decades-old heartbreak?  This can be true, I think, even if our present is relatively happy and drama-free.  Wakoski examines her past with movies and myth as her companions, finding tropes in both that twine and echo in her own life.  In the last section of the book, "The Lady of Light Meets the Shadow Boy," she writes poems that are inspired by a new friendship/mentorship with the poet Matthew Dickman, yet these poems, too, are meditations on the past, and what both poets share from it. I am always in awe of Wakoksi's catalog of imagery: the natural world, the urban environment, jewels, cloth, flowers, cinema, the qualities of light, as well as her ear for prosody and her skill with line-breaks. This collection, along with her previous book, The Diamond Dog, indicate to me another flowering in this poet's career.  Some of the fieceness of her earlier work is not here, but she has replaced anger (which was exciting) with a hard-won wisdom (calmer, but perhaps more beautiful.)  I look forward to her work, always.

Here's the third stanza of "Some Beauty Needs a Dimness." The poet is describing how a winter scene would be different if the sun were out:

                                                Now the 
gold and green and orange snow blowers and shovels
would come out, a reminder of
worldly destruction; the kids in red gloves would
dirty the world with snowballs, the car mufflers
would blow out a column of asserive, lively particles,
some perhaps staining the snow blue. Even the light itself would be
cheerful and lose its sonority.
Edward Weston's pepppers -- wouldn't you shudder
if they were green? Would you ever want to see a Greta Garbo 
film in color?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The World Will Find A Way to Break Your Heart

From an interview with Mark Doty in Tricycle

Mark Doty: Grief does not seem to me to be a choice. Whether or not you think grief has value, you will lose what matters to you. The world will break your heart. So I think we’d better look at what grief might offer us. It’s like what Rilke says about self-doubt: it is not going to go away, and therefore you need to think about how it might become your ally.

I find that line all the time in my notebooks, "the world will break your heart." Or better, " the world will find a way to break your heart."