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Posts Tagged ‘Jorie Graham’


“Repentance,” by Natasha Tretheway, is the first poem in this issue of The New Yorker. “To make it right Vermeer painted then painted over / this scene.” So, an ekphrastic poem (I know the word cuz of the contest over at Rattle Magazine, actually). The first third of the poem simply describes the painting, then the first turn comes with: “Perhaps to exchange loyalty for betrayal / Vermeer… made of the man / a mirror framed by the open door.” I’ve never thought of the artist consciously making such a change so the viewer can see it, and get some deeper meaning from the work. I’ve always thought those were just mistakes, or at least needed adjustments. So there’s an enlightenment for me. Such a change, the poem explains, is a “Pentimento,” which “means the same as remorse after sin.” I’m getting a lot out of this poem just from this, but of course, by referring to such things, we think about the narrator herself. Why this subject? Is she suffering remorse? The poem goes on to sketch out a lover’s argument. “the dog had crept from the room to hide.” So we are seeing the dog, the man, the mirror/glass (bottle) and the woman alone, both in the painting and in the poem. Then she makes the relationship explicit between life and painting. “In paint / a story can change mistakes be undone.” And the painting is on page one, the story of the narrator on page two, with the two pages fully mirroring each other. A wonderful, multi-layered poem, full of resonance and surprise. Very much worth hunting out.

The second poem is “Rail,” by Jorie Graham. “I set out over the / unknowable earth / once more.” The poem is shaped long and narrow, like a rail, though it seems too upbeat in tone to be the howling sort of railing. The poet traces an image seen on her walk through the process her body goes through apprehending it: “Things flinch / but it is my seeing / makes them / flinch…. they line my optic nerve… Brain / flinch husk / groove.” It’s an interesting idea, and tricky to bring out in a poem. But then she moves further, discussing the nature of reality. “How / will the real / let me drop…?” And then with the turn it becomes a discussion of mortality. “I / know I will / have to leave / the earth.” It doesn’t raise a shiver, there’s no surge of emotion for me reading this, it’s almost an intellectual exercise only; which gives it quite an intriguing aspect — the narrow rail becoming almost no more than a splinter, a narrow little life.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of poems, Against The Night, a sweet, rueful look at love in a long marriage, is available on Amazon, and at other fine e-retailers.

Related blog posts:

The New Yorker – Oct 30, 17

The New Yorker – Aug 21 17

More New Yorker Poems

 

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A double issue of the New Yorker gives us, first, “Invocation” by Amit Majmudar, who has built a powerful reputation brick by brick over the last few years. This is one of his more powerful. “Sing the arms of kids, / the ones with pustules all along their veins…” The rhymes are in couplets, but the stanzas are in triplets, and this mismatch, things not fitting, is a theme of the poem, a peroration of the many victims one sees in emergency rooms. “The arms imprinted…as if the dad who grabbed…had dipped // his hand in black paint first.” A sobering work.

“Diminution” by Charles Rafferty discusses just that: Socrates taught Plato and…Aristotle taught Alexander the Great who founded a city…until it was burned.” This raffish collapse winds through the short poem, a sort of ‘I told you so…’ in a hundred words. Fun, in an evil way.

“Fast” by Jorie Graham requires time to work through. The language may be quick, but the reader must backtrack, pause, absorb at a snail’s pace to see what is going on. “Too much. Or not enough. Or. Nothing else? / Nothing else.” There’s a recurrent reference to a bot. “To download bot be / swift…to load greatly enlarge / the cycle of labor — to load abhor labor…” There are many verbal tricks, and many internal rhymes luring the incautious reader on, but then once again the reader must backtrack, to see how the words jigsaw together. Intriguing.

Now I’m gonna twist it up a bit and review a book that just came out from Main St. Rag. Don’t know the poet, but I reviewed a few of his poems a while back. The book is called Hollow Tin Jingles, the poet is Fred Rosenblum, and the poems center around the narrator’s experiences in Vietnam. The opening poem, “the final episode of leave it to beaver” lays out the situation: “two months prior to my enlistment in the Marines / my brother Wally and me / dropped two hits of Owsley White Lightening / in a run-down Victorian two-story…I was fresh out of high school / and confused with the script / of a satirical deity / who would manipulate his characters / from The Summer of Love / to The Eve of Destruction.” Cultural touchstones are woven throughout the poems, serving as comment on the narrator’s situation, often in ironic tones. This technique creates an atmosphere of sadness, and the sense of someone caught up in something far larger than himself. These references reveal how we don’t always understand our own culture, why some things are considered important. There are many beautiful lines here: “we were just the carvings of youth…” from “drunk and inoculated at kadena,” and “the gunner was a madman…he muscled-off a line of lead / asserted himself upon us / with very scary acne / and a feverish enthusiasm” from “cherries.”

But overall, this is very much a book of characters. “an obese porcine caricature / shaven head and handlebars // bouncing at the breech of a fifty caliber / he was careless with the lives of men / yet careful in his efforts to gain official notice // I remember him / firing into the shops / by the side of the road…” We know this man. He horrifies us, terrifies us, makes us afraid we could be him if we grow careless.

As much as anything else, it is a book about a place and time that we think we know, that will always be unknowable. “daylight / the five hundred pound / bomb-cratered…rainwater rice terrace — / flooded epitome / of wartime Indo-China…homestead of dung beetle / & royal blue / water buffaloes / immersed to their bellies…”

This is a moving portrait of a young man in a searing time, who comes back changed in ways that send shivers down your spine, that make you feel proud, and sad. A book of understanding and wisdom won in a very tough place. I highly recommend this book, Hollow Tin Jingles.

Peace in Poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of love poems, Against The Night, is a sometimes sweet, sometimes rueful look at a long marriage. It’s available on Amazon, as well as at other fine e-retailers.

Related Blogs:

The New Yorker – Aug 21 2017

The New Yorker – July 31 2017

 

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