Aug 27, 2012

Franz Wright, Bob Hicok: Poems about Fathers

An Old Pic

A New Pic

Postcard 2 by Franz Wright : Poetry Magazine

O my pa-pa by Bob Hicok : Poetry Magazine

With readers’ help and the brilliance of the poem “To Myself” last time, I’ve gotten more interested in Franz Wright than I had been, so here’s a very different critter from him, a prose poem titled “Postcard 2.”  It may or may not be about his famous-poet-dad, James Wright; I’m hanging on to the New Criticism to that extent.

I’d also like to hear your thoughts as you compare it to Bob Hicok’s poem, “O my pa-pa,” a work about fathers, sons, and to a lesser extent, the whole nature of writing poetry.

I think maybe Bob Hicok and Franz Wright should not be let into the same room on this subject, but that’s all I’ll say for now.  

Well, one more thing. If this pair of poems doesn’t start people—male or female—talking about fathers and children, maybe nothing will.

On the subject of fathers, here’s singer-songwriter John Prine with Steve Goodman's song on the subject: 

And here’s what some of us said about “O my pa-pa” back in January of 2010:

Sparrow Dad Feeds Junior

Aug 15, 2012

Franz Wright, "To Myself": Nitty-Gritty Love

Wood Stork Love? Guana River Preserve, FL, 2010

My thanks to Caitlin Kimball for introducing me to this poem by Franz Wright (son of poet James Wright, by the way, for those who think they have a tough parent act to follow).

To Myself by Franz Wright : The Poetry Foundation

At the Poetry Foundation website, Ms. Kimball includes “To Myself” in a mostly humorous piece titled
Ten Poems to Read When You Get Stuffed in a Locker by Caitlin Kimball.  I recommend it.

About Franz Wright’s last line she says, “Every time I read this last line, I snort and question its good taste. Then my eyes well up.”  I think I know just what she means, though, as a male, maybe I’m not supposed to. 
Rural South Carolina. He Hopes the Bus Stop Is Near

Field, Michigan's Thumb, August 2011

For those who don't know Michigan geography, natives say the Lower Peninsula is shaped like a mitten, and the southeastern portion of the state is The Thumb.

A Lot of "I"--Overlooking the Field, Michigan Thumb, August 2011

I’m eager to hear your responses. Is the poem a romantic rapture, full of modernized conceits? Or is it simply grandiose, delusional foolishness for a speaker (and an author?) to say he is the fields, and he is the little lights and the rain and the loneliness and—why not?—he is the universe itself?  Is it both romantic and ridiculous? Is that OK? Do we still believe that being romantic is being ridiculous, and anything less is coldly pragmatic?  Do we all long for a mate who wants to catch our cold, share out germs, or hold us while we vomit?  Don't ignore Wright's title.

To Myself by Franz Wright : The Poetry Foundation

Aug 8, 2012

Emily Dickinson, "This Quiet Dust"

Thanks to Hannah Stephenson for calling attention last March 30 to this eight-liner, Poem 813 by Emily Dickinson. I had never read it.

         This quiet dust was gentlemen and ladies
         And lads and girls—
         Was laughter and ability and sighing,
         And frocks and curls;

         This passive place a summer's nimble mansion,
         Where bloom and bees
         Fulfilled their oriental circuit,
         Then ceased like these—

Whatever else we might say about it, it's an example of how one can write about the grimmest subjects and be lovely at it—not by writing prettily, in lacy calligraphy, but by capturing the subject in a way that enhances the subject. Dickinson's subject here is mortality and the brevity of human experience. One way to capture that is to be brief, imitating your subject, being as icy with your subject as death is.

What specifics do we remember about someone we knew, now deceased, or humanity in general? I'm bowled over by Dickinson's unpredictable and stunning combination in Line 3:  "laughter and ability and sighing."
It's "ability" that throws a fantastic monkey wrench into what we'd expect. We can imagine ourselves going on and on sentimentally about laughter and sighs; most of us probably think consciously or otherwise that most of what's good is about laughter and sighs, moonlight and roses, splendor in the grass, tip-toeing through the daisies, God's hand patting us on the head or stretching out to show us where the good places are.

So who the hell threw "ability" into that sweet, familiar picture? Well, Emily Dickinson for one.

When we try to attribute  meaning and purpose to our lives, don't we place our abilities and achievements right up there with romantic and family love? "What makes me proud, or at least OK, about being me?" "What did I do or make that was good?" Babies?  Wooden cabinets (when I think of making, I always think first of carpenters, I'm not sure why)?  Space ships, poems, computer programs, a new arrangement of office space on the 43rd floor, an indestructible condom in six colors and sizes—it’s called the 36er  (6 x 6, get it?). 

I made that. Or, my spouse or child or friend made that. If we could know our heart of hearts, or others' heart of hearts, and be honest about it, I bet we admire abilities as much as relationships or more. Anybody can fall in love (or lust). Most people can breed. Most are mediocre at raising children.

By comparison to moonlight, lace, or splendiferous grasses, ability sounds cold and functional. But do you know anyone who can honestly say, "I don't have any ability at anything, and that's fine with me"?

Somewhere in these pages, I’ve told the story of the eminent William Faulkner and his daughter. He was starting a drinking binge, which she'd seen before, and she said something like, “Pappy, pappy, don’t start.” He replied, “Nobody remembers Shakespeare’s children.” 

That cruelty and self-importance are almost unimaginable. However, there's no denying Faulkner's talent, and that complicates the whole situation.  So much for lads and girls and frocks and curls. In demanding attention for “ability,” E.D. has in a way stuck a mean old Faulkner-stick in the middle of hickory dickory dock mush. 
I could go on beating this drum about single words—a mansion that’s “nimble,” or the “circuit” of bees and blooms that’s “oriental”—but maybe I’ve made the point. Emily Dickinson may have felt her poem tugging her toward just another trite, smarmy, whiny protest about death’s unkindness and how sad it is that the laughing, flirting, pretty rich people in the drawing room have to become dust. By inserting curious, attention-demanding words like the few I’ve singled out, E.D. can have her cake more complicated and eat it too.

For those who want to mourn death as the consumption of wealthy elegance, here’s Poem 813. For those who wonder a little more vigorously just what it is we miss when a human dies, here’s Poem 813. E.D. tosses in some nuts and bolts that skew and enlarge the whole discussion. 

This quiet dust was gentlemen and ladies
And lads and girls--
Was laughter and ability and sighing,
And frocks and curls;

This passive place a summer's nimble mansion,
Where bloom and bees
Fulfilled their oriental circuit,
Then ceased like these--

Lovers' Lane