Tuesday, November 15, 2011

i love you much(most beautiful darling)

i love you much(most beautiful darling)

Cummings has always been a favorite of mine because of his wordplay. I think it goes especially well with love poems because, well. It will come as no surprise to any of you that Alyson and I are wordplay types. We're both fascinated and delighted by the ways you can fit words together, the way you can make new and clever things out of familiar things. So Cummings' love poems feel like the sorts of things that we say to each other, schmoopy and metaphoric and playful things. Like "i love you... better than everything in the sky," like the hyperbole of "such sunlight as will leap higher than high." And the repetition of "most beautiful darling" rings true to me as well, because it's the sort of romantic habit that you find yourself falling into - you develop your own nicknames for each other.

The other thing I like about this poem beyond the language itself is the overarching statement of it - that if everyone could feel passion, they would "believe in nothing but love." And really, "nothing but love" is kind of my life philosophy. Love is what it's all about, the thing that we each of us should be seeking. Although for me that doesn't always mean romantic or sexual love - you can just as well have love for nature or a well-made object or a song. It's about intensity of feeling, it's about joy.

I should read more poems about love because they always make me a bit soppy. Which is a nice feeling.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Latin & Soul (Victor Hernández Cruz)

Latin & Soul

I like this one because it's a good example of written poetic form actually being relevant and important for what the poem is about. This is a poem about dancing, and the words are dancing on the page. When I read it my eyes move back and forth, rhythmically, organically. All the distinct fragments make me think of the way, when you're dancing, you sometimes move to a position and hold it, just for a split second, before you move on. Or you don't really mean to hold that position, and maybe you don't actually stay there for longer than you've stayed anywhere, but it feels like a moment. When you're twirling someone outwards with your arm, right when they get to the end of the twirl so that both your arms are outstretched, and then they rebound - right before the rebound, that's what I'm talking about. There's a moment when you feel yourself being at that point, being at a place of changing direction, though you haven't actually changed direction yet. (Think of points on a graph.)

I also love this:

a piano is trying to break a molecule
is trying to lift the stage into orbit

There's something about the language of effort here, like you can picture the piano groaning under the strain of  being played so furiously, so enthusiastically. That's one of my favorite things about going to see live music; when you can see that the musician is so into it, it just brings this whole other level of excitement to being there. A musician can bring a certain type of joy to a performance that just heightens the joy of the audience.

And I like the repetition of "dance" in the first bits of the poem. What that makes me think of is the way dancing can be very zen, the way you can get lost in it. It drowns out everything else and the music takes you "away-away-away" and all you know is dance-dance-dance. All you are is a dancer (sometimes not even a dancer, but just the dance).

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Alzheimer's (Jane Hirshfield)


This is a subject that frightens me. When I think of who 'myself' is, I think of my mind. I am a mind; my mind is my essence. I can imagine being me in another body, or in an artificial body that's nothing like human. I can imagine being moved to a situation like that, and still being me.

But what that means is that it's exceptionally terrifying to think about losing that self, having it be impaired. Or losing none of it, but losing the physical ability to express it. I can't decide whether I think Hirshfield's interpretation of Alzheimers (holes, blockages, but the essence still there) is right or not - I feel sure science doesn't know the answer, either. But more than that, I can't decide which interpretation is more frightening: to lose myself, or to be myself but not be able to show it.

The last line of the poem is an interesting reference. "Contrary to Keatsian joy" is surely meant to invoke this passage from Endymion:

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing

I think this is why I feel such an urge to create tangible things, to write. Because there is this sense that if I can create a thing of beauty, it means that I will have created something that lives on after the thing that makes me myself has gone. But the man in the poem is "contrary" to Keatsian joy - perhaps denying it, perhaps proving it false simply by being what he is - and I think maybe he has the right of it. Maybe a fine old carpet with holes chewed in it ceases to be a carpet and becomes only a rag. I don't think that makes it any less beautiful when it is whole. Maybe more beautiful, for being something that only lasts so long.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Fourth World (Jane Hirshfield)

Fourth World

The line that struck me from this one most was "A man dies over and over again on the news." (My book version says "man" but the earlier, Cortland Review version I've linked to says "woman" - interesting that she changed it before republishing. My guess is because using "woman" there made that more of the focus of the sentence, hinted at something a bit darker there, whereas "man" is more generic.)

There's an interesting implication here - that we are not merely watching someone who has died once, but that the act of watching means that the person dies, that each time we watch, the death happens once more. It's not a causal connection - the act of watching doesn't cause the person's death - but some other sort of connection. Similar to the way observation of a quantum event changes something fundamental about what is being observed.

I've been working on a science fiction piece about a person who relives the same day over and over again (kind of like the movie Groundhog Day), and one of the things he wrestles with is that if he doesn't stop someone dying every single time he goes around, is he morally culpable for their death and suffering? Even if they go back to not being dead when morning rolls around, even if they don't remember any of that pain - does it still matter? And I sometimes think the same about what we see on the news - there are things that only become news by virtue of being aired as news. Once a news organization decides that this thing is something that counts as news, something people should care about, then suddenly people start caring about it. We've seen this in particular with runs on banks, where the news stations go on about urging people not to panic, which is what causes people to panic.

And then there's the phrase "the fourth world" - in one sense it's like "third world" in representing a particular type of human population: non-industrial, stateless, poor. I think that's a fairly accepted usage. But I also wonder if we could categorize human populations in terms of how much they are recorded. For most of us, the modern first world would still be the first world, with driver's license photographs and closed circuit TV and so on. If we extrapolate that down to "fourth world" level, though, would we find people who do not even create drawings of themselves? People for whom being physically present is the only representation they have? I suspect things wouldn't go that far, for even in tribal civilizations they can refer to someone who isn't present, they have drawings. But I wonder what it would be like to live in a world like that.