Friday, May 29, 2009

Salt does poetry too

I never thought I understood poetry. Although I love to read, I assumed - in that way that non-scientists assume science is another language - that I wouldn't understand it. Then I heard Under One Small Sky by Wislawa Szymborska, (winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature):
My apologies to chance for calling it necessity
My apologies to necessity if I'm mistaken, after all.
Please, don't be angry, happiness, that I take you as my due.
May my dead be patient with the way my memories fade.
My apologies to time for all the world I overlook each second.
My apologies to past loves for thinking that the latest is the first.
Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing flowers home.
Forgive me, open wounds, for pricking my finger.
Find this poem and read it. I don't think I had ever read a poem with such apparently simple language that just cut me to the core. Sliced me open.

Thus began my poetry education. And part of it is fellow Salt author Shaindel Beer's A Brief History of Time. I mentioned her in my Source of Lit post in April, National Poetry Month in the US. She has just been given a wonderful mention on the books blog at Powell's, the enormous Oregon bookstore and online bookseller:

One of the poets was Shaindel Beers, a professor of English at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton and author of a new collection of poems titled A Brief History of Time, published by Salt Publishing out of the United Kingdom.
I heard Beers read several poems from her book and was astounded by their frank honesty and contemporary themes. In recent years I have grown incredibly tired of obtuse and gutless poetry and there is nothing obtuse or gutless about Beers' poems. They strike straight and true.

Luke Kennard is another Salt poet whose poems I really enjoy. An excerpt from his collection, The Migraine Hotel:

And I Saw

A false prophet slapped in the face by a wave;
A woman screaming at her clarinet,
‘What would you have me do, then, drown you, too?’
Remaindered novels washed up on the shore.
A cat, baffled by a drowsy lobster, jogged
Over the pebbles towing a little carriage.
And the cat didn’t say anything — because
It was a cat. And the carriage was not full
Of tiny men, a watermelon or an
Assembly of diplomatic mice
Because the carriage was an example
Of man’s cruelty in the name of research.
The cat belonged to a behaviourist
And had been raised in an environment
Of only black horizontal lines. So
It saw my sprinting across the beach
To dismantle its harness as a whirl
Of fenceposts and orange rubber balls
And was gone faster than the better idea
You had a moment ago.
Visit the new section on Salt's site devoted to the Writers, and find out more about Shaindel and Luke... and many more I look forward to discovering.

During our one-night writing retreat this week I was introduced to Elizabeth Bishop's poetry and it knocked me sideways. Where was she when I was in school struggling with the war poets and not getting it? An excerpt from Questions of Travel:
There are too many waterfalls here; the crowded streams
hurry too rapidly down to the sea,
and the pressure of so many clouds on the mountaintops
makes them spill over the sides in soft slow-motion,
turning to waterfalls under our very eyes.
--For if those streaks, those mile-long, shiny, tearstains,
aren't waterfalls yet,
in a quick age or so, as ages go here,
they probably will be.
But if the streams and clouds keep travelling, travelling,
the mountains look like the hulls of capsized ships,
slime-hung and barnacled.
Nothing I can say is adequate. Her writing speaks for itself. More poetry. More and more.


BarbaraS said...

I'm delighted that you dig poetry so well now, T, and your choices are impressive. EB does it for me quite a lot: I like her restraint: she lets the images and tone do the talking, no overblown sentimentality, no imposing of her own feelings. You, the reader, do all the work - as it should be in poetry :)

harvey molloy said...

I think that the key here is that you heard the poetry and fell into their song. Once you have that experience then you can start to hear words on the page. I also came to Elizabeth Bishop later in life: what a find.