Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Daily Poetry Show Special: The Fab Fifteen

So it’s time to take a break. In fact, I’m going to take a sabbatical from blogging entirely for a couple of weeks (maybe a couple of more google sonnets before I break for the equinox). But before TDPS goes black (actually, purple) for a few weeks, I thought I’d bring back for an encore the poems that garnered the most finger-snaps the past several weeks. Oh, I’m sure if I were to review each one again, snaps would change. But que sera sera. No poem garnered five (or four point five for that matter). One came very close after a second see and one was just too damned classic already. But, IMHO, I saw no second comings. So in chronological order, here’s the Fab Fifteen:

Winter Field by Joanna Klink
This is not a soft poem despite the gentle drift of words towards some disconcerting sentiment. It’s the slow soft mounting of desolation snow. A cursory glance will see something insubstantial, sentimental, and trite. But it’s not. Yes, it’s compassionate. But it’s not lacking its own certain passion either, its own “steady blind quiet, its eventual / completeness” where the last two lines drive a cold wind hardening the poem into bluesy ice.

Sleeping with Women by Kenneth Koch
Kenneth Koch! I’m supposed to sit here and review Kenneth Koch. Sleeping with Women. Kenneth Koch. A poem by Kenneth Koch. A poem that goes on forever as far as Kenneth Koch has gone. Sleeping Women by Kenneth Koch. The mantra-drenched and referential poem by Kenneth Koch called Sleeping Women that I asleep forever for as far as poems can ever remember should review. By Kenneth Koch. Not going to happen, Kenneth Koch. Minus zero to infinite snaps.

Board Book & the Costume of a Whooping Crane by David Wojahn
You have to give him credit for taking on topics larger than elegant dejection or god forbid another Greek god. Mixed into the miscellaneously long and loose iambic lines are children, squirrels, rodent-eyed impatient presidents, and one endangered species in its ludicrous significance. It sometimes doesn’t work, but then he recovers swiftly more than not. And when it does work, the contrast between the innocent and the malignant is refreshingly sickening. I’m not happy about the rainbow ending, but the lines that lead to it are gloriously descriptive and alive, like much of the language in the poem, especially his Whitmanic catalog of cranes and their motley crew of enemies. It’s certainly uneven, but, for me, the subject matters (sure, I know, at long last relevance, but really) haul this one above the usual horizon. Three and a half-snaps.

The Perfect Future by Damian Fallon
I love a good metaphysical poem, and this one would have won me at the beginning if it weren’t for the cute ‘kiddies’ and all. I think I know what Fallon is attempting, but there must be better and smarter ways to do so. But after that first unfortunate stanza, things get real interesting. Even some of the enjambments are instructive. Technically, the slant rhyme works nicely. But if there’s a meter I can’t find it. The language is plain but the thought is intricate. And the ending is superb. This was almost my first four snap poem. But that gawky first stanza made the last snap fall somewhat short.

Landscape With Figures by Eileen Berry
The first stanza is especially praiseworthy, the plain language describing a common sea scene with profound movement. The second stanza ain’t all that shabby either. Here the focus tightens on some details of cows with luxurious language: “wide slack mouths / dripping saliva in wet threads, / flesh-pink udders swinging heavy”. The third stanza brings it all back home very nicely. But for the limitation of the last line. It ends so passively. And possibly the exact intent of the poet. But I can’t help but feel that some active verb and not that weak ‘were’ could carry out such intent more forcefully.

Two Poems by David Wagoner
Wagoner is a master at what he does. His speech is unadorned and invigorating to read. But often his mechanics look unnatural. When they do work, like most of the second poem, and especially in that first stanza, they act like branches on a tree. There was no other way for them to be of course. But when they don’t, like much of the first poem, they feel like cut wood. But the biggest problem for me are the finales, for that’s what they are, his show. Here sentiment intrudes upon a wonderfully austere landscape with a human hand, intent on making something from a thing already made. But three and a half snaps. Because what is good in these poems is an example of one of the best.

Among the Alien Born by Sonia Raiziss
This strange combination of eccentric syntax and homeward longing actually works. It’s foreign in a familiar fashion. There’s two instances when it gets too close to a joke, the amnesia and visiting hours, but deftly escapes. And ends elsewhere with great hurt instead.

And Day Brought Back My Night by Geoffrey Brock
New policy. When confronted with more than one poem in the daily poem, I’m always taking the first. And this first one is a complete success. The language and even the thought is commonplace of course but anything but dull. Risking cuteness in the last line, but I think it just clears that hurdle. Next, the mechanics. Yes, a sonnet. Great identical rhyme scheme in the octave! (Ah, the perfect world.) Great slant rhyme scheme in the sestet. (Oh, the world is sliding.) And the turn is astounding. Like a revelation itself. (and I don't even care if lines 12 & 13 are possibly hexameter-who cares!) Ruthless. Absurd. Bravo!

Pentecostals at the River Baptizing by Robert Bense
Chock full of words is a heavenly story. When it works. And at most times this one does. Even the references hold water. Although I thought things went weak in the fourth section. Especially after a great third with lines such as “swiping America's slate / clean past Rockwood, flotsam / smelling of catfish, surplus / and rot.” God that’s great! And the ending almost works.

[I want to build] by Friedrich Hölderlin
Simple but breathtaking. It overthrows the classics with just one common condition. And its universal revolutionary moment. Classical lines indeed. (Re-read half-hour later, and adding another half-snap. By tonight, this could make five.)

Postmortem by Clare Rossini
Now this one tries awfully hard to say something that can’t be said, and says it pretty well. At first it uses its language like an instrument, something to measure the distance from life to some cold hard object. Then it turns to self-analysis, prayer, and finally ending with some acceptance of a mystery. And in the meantime, the mechanics of the thing is working hard in the background reinforcing all. No, this ain’t half-bad at all.

Sounding Aboard the Rafaella by Rex Wilder
We’re on the sea of metaphor here but its captain seems courageous and proficient. It’s a love poem in despair for lust. Is that a bawdy enjambment or am I over-analyzing? But there is no pause in that second stanza. And the craft is washed complete ashore.

Pies by Erik Sweet
This is the kind of poem that compensates additional readings. I can’t be fooled by the undemanding language because the thought is anything but. Not that I’ve come away with some kind of epiphany. But each time I read it, I get another slice of the pie. I’m not sure if it was intentional, but then again, who would. Not even the poet would surely know. But there’s something very noticeable about the peculiar line breaks in the final two couplets that are unlike anything that came before. And I like it. I think it adds something to the ghostly atmosphere. And, after all, that’s what form is all about. Not some metrical metronome or rhyme design. But some underlying structure that gives body to the ghost of words. And throughout, I think the simple language becomes a form here, a kind of virtual meter, that provides a framework for its complex deliberation. And it works.

Red and Black Days by Robin Behn
It’s hard to like this poem. Too cute for its own good at times, it stretches out that third stanza with meaningless play. But being that’s part of the point here, I looked the other way. And came to understand the childish nature of the story and the awful point it makes.

Ill-Made Almighty by Heather McHugh
I love the play of language here, the internal rhyme, slant rhyme, alliteration, whatever. Also, it’s quick, gets to the point, and gets out while ahead. And the subject matter is too dear to my mind.

1 comment:

jwg said...

enjoy the break. thanks for the work.