Oct 4, 2011

Jean Valentine, W.S. Merwin: Bees in Poems and Show, Don't Tell

Go, Tigers!

Moreover, in my latest chats with bees, they have seemed healthy and busy, unlike that alarming experience a month ago (September 6, 2011).  Naturally that's led me to look again for poems involving bees.

One of the most common maxims about writing poetry (and fiction, for that matter) is, "Show, Don't Tell." Don't summarize, generalize or preach to readers; create an experience and let readers draw their own conclusions.

I've been thinking about that in relation to these two rather different poems by long-established American poets Jean Valentine and W.S. Merwin  (Merwin was U.S. Poet Laureate until Phillip Levine took over recently). I'm interested in your responses, whether or not they are specifically connected to the issue of Show, Don't Tell.

Bees by Jean Valentine : The Poetry Foundation

The River of Bees by W. S. Merwin : The Poetry Foundation


Brenda's Arizona said...

Go Tigers, YES!
(Go Dbacks, too)

Ouch to "Bees". It is a painful poem to read. The pain, the waiting for the bees to come off. Ouch.

The Merwin poem? I await your discussion. I got lost with "he will have fallen into his eyes". Although the ending was a nice statement, I reminded myself it was all a dream. Right?

Go Tigers! And Lions, oh my!

somewords said...

These are hard poems. Especially if measured with the ruler of "show don't tell."

Merwin's lines are familiar voices ("Soon it will be fifteen years"). And the voices are woven together like different people speaking in a room, or like people speaking at different times or places ("Room after room asking how I should live").

I think that Brenda is right that we find the lines in the poem that resonate, even if the others don't make as much sense. But when I'm in real rooms filled with talking people, I am usually only making sense of one conversation at a time anyway.

I usually read Merwin by trying to pluck out one conversation at a time. e.g. is the "he" in stanza and 3, 7, and 9 the blind guy at the beginning? or another time, I'm just trying to figure out if we are in present tense or past tense or both, or what is happening with time anyway ("we are the echo of the future")?

While a "red wheelbarrow" image has a powerful way to evoke a feeling in a guy, so does the experience of voices criss-crossing each other and drowning in their own river of buzz.

Banjo52 said...

Thanks, you two. Once again, I followed a photo to a poem--in this case two poems--I'd never seen. Frankly, I don't know what to do with either so far. My gut reaction was to experience Valentine's as all show, no tell, adding up to a mystery. Merwin's at first seemed a bunch of lines that SEEM to tell, to be didactic, aphoristic, and so forth, but are in fact another mystery. The dreaming quality is important, but I'm still working on making the parts fit. Somewords, I like very much the idea of several conversations in a room.

Pasadena Adjacent said...
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