Monday, April 27, 2009

Interrogating Poetry

Summer Storm

We stood on the rented patio
While the party went on inside.
You knew the groom from college.
I was a friend of the bride.

We hugged the brownstone wall behind us
To keep our dress clothes dry
And watched the sudden summer storm
Floodlit against the sky.

The rain was like a waterfall
Of brilliant beaded light,
Cool and silent as the stars
The storm hid from the night.

To my surprise, you took my arm–
A gesture you didn't explain–
And we spoke in whispers, as if we two
Might imitate the rain.

Then suddenly the storm receded
As swiftly as it came.
The doors behind us opened up.
The hostess called your name.

I watched you merge into the group,
Aloof and yet polite.
We didn't speak another word
Except to say goodnight.

Why does that evening's memory
Return with this night's storm–
A party twenty years ago,
Its disappointments warm?

There are so many might have beens,
What ifs that won't stay buried,
Other cities, other jobs,
Strangers we might have married.

And memory insists on pining
For places it never went,
As if life would be happier
Just by being different.

from Interrogations at Noon

© 2001 Dana Gioia

Gioia's poem above was mentioned as a good beginning place to start getting students interested in poetry. this was taken from an essay titled "Why Students Don't Like Poetry" by Mark Bauerlein. Here are some of his interesting thoughts on this matter:

"More and more, they groan when it comes to poetry days...They like the fiction — standards such as “A & P,” “Lost in the Funhouse,” “Good Country People” — but lines such as these by John Ashbery leave them cold:

“. . . The sky calls To the deaf earth. The proverbial disarray Of morning corrects itself as you stand up. You are wearing a text.”

What’s a “proverbial disarray?” they wonder. And how can you wear a text? Yeah, yeah, we can interpret all kinds of ways, but it doesn’t seem right when you have to work so hard to get a grip on the basic meaning."


"And what does this opening from Levertov mean to them?

“Who’d believe me if
I said, ‘They took and

split me open from
scalp to crotch, and

still I’m alive, and
walk around pleased with

the sun and all
the world’s bounty.’ Honesty

isn’t so simple:
a simple honesty is

nothing but a lie.”

What the heck do you mean when you say that simple honesty is a lie? asks the young man or woman who wants clarity and straightforwardness from adults.

Or this from Anne Sexton:

“My friend, my friend, I was born
doing reference work in sin, and born
confessing it. This is what poems are:
with mercy
for the greedy,
they are the tongue’s wrangle,
the world’s pottage, the rat’s star.”

When 19-year-olds they read those lines, they think, “Huh?” Or, “Rat’s star?” Plus, when poets write poems about poetry and texts, teachers may find it intriguing, but kids who don’t plan to major in literature couldn’t care less. They can’t relate."


and after the students' positive reaction to Gioia's poem, Bauerlein ended with this:

"The occasion was a lesson in poetry teaching. Don’t choose poems so difficult and remote from young students, especially the non-humanities majors. They may be brilliant and powerful, but if their brilliance and power requires too much guidance and contextualization on the teacher’s part, they won’t work.

And don’t assume that because a poem has regular cadences and rhyme, tells a recognizable story, and is accessible to the 19-year-old sensibility that it doesn’t achieve the brilliance and power of the difficult, oblique, intense poetry of the anthology pieces."

Renga # 27

train wreck the arch of her back

as she turns and heads for the exit

staggering in the darkness

towards a window of light

that suddenly explodes

the way all light explodes.

And further, there, the dark

tunnel pushing on toward sunburst.

the curator, kuwabatake, ramblingsoul