Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Sandalwood Horse

Alas, not online.

This is a wonderful Engrish poem that immediately made me think of Jane. The message is "we would like to sell you a three-inch tall carved sandalwood horse". The voice is one that does not speak English as a native language, and perhaps one that is not interested in being terribly pedantic about its advertising copy.

The speaker starts off by letting you know that sandalwood is a good material to make things out of:
There are in world, many kinds of sandalwood, like white
and black...
.... It will avoid all types insect,
so keep happiness and luck safe.
Then, on to the horse, which
is best work of art and worth to collect and appreciate.
Griffiths uses repetition to hilarious effect:
We know
you may like the likeness of this horse which is 3 inches
rearing lifelike.
And it all ends on an optimistic note.
We hope to ship you horse or other sandalwood thing.

Griffiths was evidently a woman of many voices. I thought this one was pitch-perfect.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Sort of Ode to the Poem Lady (or You Don't Have To Be a Hypochondriac, But It Helps)

Can't find it online.

By the middle of the first strophe, I want to punch the Poem Lady directly in the face. Witness:
She is too weak to walk herself; she comes swooning
from a room thick with the scent of sinister blooms:
hellbores, opium poppies, lilac, pallid orchids.
She writes of her weakness, of her womb
which is connected to the moon by silvery strands,
and her sacred suffering self, her sensitivity,
her swollen heart, which bleats like a sacrificial lamb.
Barf. (This is not a complaint about the poem; just a complaint about the character of the Poem Lady, whom I'm pretty clearly meant to dislike anyhow.)

There's lots of interesting flower symbolism. (I'm going to do the photo trick again, because I find that it really helps to know what the flowers in poems look like.) So first, flowers that the Poem Lady likes.

Here's hellbore.
According to Wikipedia, there's a legend claiming that hellbore "sprouted in the snow from the tears of a young girl who had no gift to give the Christ child in Bethlehem." This seems completely in keeping with the Poem Lady's character.

Opium poppies, of course, are what you use to drug yourself with. Here is a pretty red one.

I'm not sure what the lilacs are meant to represent. Wikipedia says that they are a symbol of love, and also that they are the state flower of New Hampshire.

I am not sure whether a "pallid orchid" is just an orchid that is pallid, or whether it's the common name of something. (Google suggests the former.) Orchids are delicate, temperamental cultivars, much like the Poem Lady. Here's a Cattleya cultivar. (At my house, I have a Dendrobium hybrid, exact type unknown, which I have managed not to kill for three years. I think it is hardier than the Poem Lady.)

Our narrator brings the Poem Lady "a bouquet of peasant flowers", but "they [turn her] away with curled lips and curses". What's in the bouqet?

First, there's Piss-a-Bed, which I recognise from Griffiths' other poems as a rustic name for dandelion!

Then, there's Ragged Robin, a marshy plant originally native to England.

And finally, there's corncockle.

The Poem Lady writes "fragrant words", such as:
amaranth, muscatel, damascene, vermillion, amber
Amaranth is a useful herb; probably the poem lady is thinking of it in its capacity as an ornamental plant. (You can also eat it, though: yum.) Muscatel is a tasty, fragrant grape. Damascene can be steel, but I think it's more likely that the Poem Lady is thinking of the kind that is silk. Vermillion and amber are colors (a red and a yellow, respectively) named after minerals. All very sensuous words.

Although I love reading about the poem lady and her ridiculous delicacy, and her ornate words, I'm a bit disappointed by the ending of this one. What Griffiths says at the end is already amply clear from the earlier bits of the poem.
O Poem Lady, may we be forgiven if we hymn life
instead of celebrating the sickroom. O, help us
to wallow in unease and depression and shadows
as we should. For ever and ever, lest poetry die.
I was hoping to see her take it in a new direction, and add some depth to the narrator's alternative to the Poem Lady. I thought the bouquet of peasant flowers a much stronger positive image than the ending, and wished she had built up that aspect of the poem a little bit more.

Fer Blossom

Griffiths undertakes two delicate tasks at once: writing an epitaph for a dead animal, and writing in dialect. I thought the result was highly successful, but I'm probably less picky than other readers who are more familiar with the target dialect. I don't know whether she's getting it right, since I've got nothing to compare it to.

I'm a sucker for animal poems, and there were a couple of little details here that I especially loved. There's the picture of the pig standing nose-to-nose with the sows and grunting after breeding (like a little conversation), his fondness for tummy rubs and snout rubs, and the fact that one of his favourite treats is "Meltasers". (In the US, Malteasers are called "Malted Milk Balls". They are totally delicious. Probably not good for pigs, but I love the idea of the soft-hearted farmer sneaking them to the pig anyway.)

As usual, you don't have to squint to hard to see Griffiths' delight in the sounds of words. Particularly lovely turns of phrase include "nipped off en a nep", "hautopsied end cinerated", and "don't metter a smutter". There's also a nice hidden rhyme between the line ending on "summack" in S1, and the line ending on "stummack" in S2. Those things don't rhyme for me, but I like the fact that they rhyme for somebody. The poem ends alliteratively, on "barrel-bottom boar".

Goodbye - it's been fun!

I was hoping to be able to finish the requisite fifteen, but alas, I find other demands on my time. I leave for vacation tomorrow, starting with my first face to face LIVE Poetry workshop in Taos, N.M.! I am busily polishing a few poems to have eviscerated there - a couple rejections *sob* I just had kicked back to me from Fifth Wednesday Journal and a couple NaPo poems I am still revising - down to the wire, it is! I cannot wait to see what pearls of wisdom come from this.

It has been fun. Thanks for hosting, Featherless! Any of you on Facebook? Jee and I are.

My Life with a Latin Professor

Not online.

The plot is simple: the narrator and her partner (Lorenzo, the Latin professor) are carried off into the sky at unpredictable intervals, by various sorts of beings who seem intent on ravishing them. I would have serious reservations about signing up for this sort of foreign exchange program in real life, but Griffiths makes it sound surprisingly appealing.

The poem draws considerable energy from temporal jumps. S1 takes place “last week”; S2 takes place “last month”; S3 is in the present tense, and describes things that happen habitually; and S4 speculates about possible future events. The overall effect is a strong sense that the abductions are an ongoing pattern.

My favorite kidnappers are the chain-smoking aliens in S1, whose mothership is “tricked out with silver plastic and plump crimson velvet/ like a 50s cinema foyer”. Somehow, my mind wants to fill in polyester suits and chest medallions. They’ve got to be the cheesiest aliens I’ve ever heard of.

S2 gives us a sexual encounter with seraphim, told in hints and implications. Griffiths’ narrator gives us “the smell of incense and burnt plumage”—all right, standard enough for angels—but then follows it up with “lingered between my thighs for days”. Evidently, the seraphim were satisfying; they have the narrator humming “Holy, Holy, Holy”.

S3 is a little hard to parse. The narrator insists that she doesn’t mind the abductions, and doesn’t envy her boring friends. Often this sort of insistence is a sign of insincerity, or (to put a different spin on it) making the best of a bad situation. But here, I believe the narrator. I think she probably just feels a bit superior to her friends.

S4 does a couple of things at once. First, there’s the literal scene: the narrator makes a delicious-sounding breakfast of scrambled eggs, mimosa, toast, and coffee, while she speculates about who might carry her off. Second, there’s some lovely bird imagery. The narrator wonders whether she’ll be “radared by an eagle/ seeking a swan” (I think this is also a reference to the myth of Leda), and then follows this up with the scrambled eggs, and ends the strophe with “our hearts are always thudding like wings”. Third, there’s the some lovely phraseology, including a comparison between the couple and “eyelets waiting to be hooked”.

If any seraphim or Greek gods are reading, please leave your contact info in the comments.

Monday, July 11, 2011

What Does Us In, Dean Young

This poem seems to start out as him reminiscing about an ex wife. Its another poem about loss. It seems to go on to talk about the losses we incur in war, he seems to be finished talking about his ex wife and wedding photos, the billiard room they first met in. Then: "...But we must not be afraid my countrymen...Horse w/ wings, man with three arms, man with none." Now he's addressing the losses we incur in wartime. Then he jumps ahead again to an allusion of some friends that lost a baby, some interesting language here:

And death-heads I can live with
like what glowed that night as my friends spoke
of the fragile pregnancy between them,

The poem ends on the death of his father:

My heart hurts like a revolving tray of sweets.
It was the hats that my mother broke down about.

This piece didn't have the deep insight I've come to trademark Dean Young on. I didn't come away wowed or learning something new, as w/ Whale Watch, or Asking a Girl Out. It was just alright. Maybe he was too close to the subject matter to really do it justice. We've all done that.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Victoria's Secret - Peep Show

We are coming down from our pedestal and up from the laundry room - Bella Abzug

Every time I read this poem I feel dirty. Whatever else I may say about Daniels, she does have a knack for dredging up the rawer emotions. In this poem a newly married N, for whatever undisclosed reason, has accompanied her husband to a peep show and stands outside while he does what a man does at a peep show. The implication is that N is unable to satisfy him, so as "a good wife," she allows him a proxy.

So I'm standing on pavement clotted with dried up discs
of hawked-out phlegm and chewing gum, and the air
is redolent with the odor of pot and filthy, unwashed
hair, and curbed pools of human waste glistening

She does ugly well. She then goes on to describe how her mind is simultaneously forcing herself to accept and reject the image of young girls bumping and grinding adolescent hips [that] cost nothing but a quarter. These quarters are provided by N's stash of laundry money, thus highlighting her complicity in her husband's behavior. She also happens to be wearing a diamond ring that once belonged to her mother-in-law.

Finally, there is the irony in this line she stood there on the sidewalk waiting for the man inside/as if he were a prince, as if he were her One True Love...waiting and waiting for something that was promised,/but now (she starts to realize) will never come.

The poem seems to be a young feminist's struggle (it is set in 1978) between what she was raised ON from fairytales and maternal expectations of what she SHOULD be and what the coming of age expectations of what a young feminist is supposed to be with no clear understanding of who she really is or what she WANTS of herself or from a man. Or what is right or wrong. By the end of the poem her illusions are shattered but she is no closer to knowing a better way to be.