January 1, 2004

The election's over, so are the holidays, Michigan got beat in the Rose Bowl and we're getting closer and closer to the days when the only thing to look forward to in the world of sports is the start of baseball season and the NHL playoffs. Took ten days or so off from work, practiced guitar, painted (the apartment, not a masterpiece), saw several movies, read, wrote, relaxed.

I've been reading Herrick and Spenser and thinking a lot about the relationship between poetry and music. Tom Clark showed us his copy of Herrick last fall, in which the previous owner had scored out a couple of bars of music for various poems that he'd decided to set tunes for, just like Henry Lawes did for real back when the poems were made. It's simple to do if you have a musical ear and the poem was written that way. Spenser's Faerie Queen has been a real revelation, and it occurred to me how much this poem must have influenced Ed Dorn in his writing the Gunslinger, although I haven't yet talked with anyone who would know for sure.

One of the movies we saw over the break was the poet biopic Sylvia -- I have to say I wasn't one of those who cringed when I saw that Gwyneth Paltrow would portray the poetess, I actually thought it was a decent casting choice. The movie itself was not so great, although it did motivate me to revisit the work of Plath and Ted Hughes, both excellent poets in their own way. Sylvia Plath is one of those poets hurt in the world of poetry by her own fame; while she is far better known and more widely read than she ever would have been had she not committed suicide at a young age, her work is seldom praised by poets today. Yet it stands up as well or better than many of her contemporaries, including Anne Sexton, Robert Lowell, and Hughes himself. Her use of metaphor and the effects she was able to achieve with a limited amount of words, her clever, surgical line-breaks, her ability to encode and encrypt emotion into powerfully compact phrases, is something to be admired and envied.

Meanwhile, check out this poem:

Crow Tyrannosaurus

Creation quaked voices--
It was a cortege
Of mourning and lament
Crow could hear and he looked around fearfully.

The swift's body fled past
With insects
And their anguish, all it had eaten.

The cat's body writhed
A tunnel
Of incoming death-struggles, sorrow on sorrow.

And the dog was a bulging filterbag
Of all the deaths it had gulped for the flesh and the bones.
It could not digest their screeching finales.
Its shapeless cry was a blort of all those voices.

Even man when he is walking
Of innocents--
His brain incinerating their outcry.

Crow thought 'Alas
Alas ought I
To stop eating
And try to become the light?'

But his eye saw a grub. And his head, trapsprung, stabbed.
And he listened
And he heard

Grubs grubs He stabbed he stabbed

Weeping he walked and stabbed
Thus came the eye's

the ear's

--Ted Hughes

As Lew Welch would say, that's just so good you can't believe it. After a very unofficial survey of Hughes' selected poems, I submit that he's at his best when he works in the natural world, as he often does, and when he works in the fable or mythological form. I know he wrote a few children's books. His long work Crow, published in 1970, is quite sharp and stunning in its weaving of the mythic and mundane, its deceptively simple, children's fable-like feel.

To sum up the news for this month, I'm sorry to report that Stephanie Young and I won't be presenting our play, The Last Experimental Poet in Captivity, at this year's Poet's Theater Jubilee. We talked about it and decided that, due to our schedules and the difficulty of getting the cast members we wanted, it was best if we postponed it till next year. But there are still lots of interesting new plays being presented in this year's festival; visit Small Press Traffic for more information.

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