I’m thinking about poems I have questions about. Many of them are poems I love for their music and mystery–something draws me back to them over and over, but I have trouble describing them to myself or others. Some are poems other poets value–people I respect–but that feel impenetrable, opaque to me. They make me feel stupid, and that makes me angry, so I keep asking why they like them. When I’m that passionate, it almost always means I’m working up to really engaging with them–if I didn’t care, I just wouldn’t bother with them. And of course there are well known poems that include something that baffles me, but I’m too embarrassed to ask about it. I’d like this to be a space where we can ask those questions, from large to small–anything from an image that puzzles you, or a line you’re not sure how to read, to What’s a way into this poet?
This is definitely audience participation. I’d like you to add a poem in the comments section here, along with your question or questions about it. Please do that as early as possible so that people have time to read and think about them before we discuss them during this week’s Fridays at 4 (eastern time).
I’m priming the pump here with some poems I have questions about. I am really drawn to Laura Kasischke’s work, and read her poems with a lot of pleasure. At the same time, I’m not always sure what exactly is happening in them or how to talk about them to someone else. I think the best way to learn to read anyone’s poems is to read a lot of them, whole books, but since we can’t do that here I’m including three.
In “Mushrooms,” my questions are about the last two lines: Is the mother saying it? The daughter? Has the mother been lost in thought? The child lost? Why is the child crying? In “In this Order,” my question is about “Watery. Irony. Memory.” I love the word play of it, these words with similar endings that aren’t really parallel. I know what watery means–does irony here mean “like iron”? But then what to make of memory in that trio? What’s the tone of “You’ve Come Back to Me,” the emotion? Is the speaker happy about the return? Angry?
Now let’s see the poems you have questions about.
three poems by Laura Kasischke, from her book The Infinitesimals:
Like silent naked monks huddled
around an old tree stump, having
spun themselves in the night
out of thought and nothingness—
And God so pleased with their silence
He grants them teeth and tongues.
How long have you been gone?
A child’s hot tears on my bare arms.
IN THIS ORDER
A tail, a torso, a tiny face.
A longing, a journey, a deep belief.
A spawning, a fissioning, a bit of tissue
anchored to a psyche,
stitched to a wish.
Watery. Irony. Memory. My
mother, my face, and then
the last thing
she’d ever see, and then
the last words
I’d hear her say: You’re
YOU’VE COME BACK TO ME
A small thing crawling toward me
across this dark lawn. Bright
eyes the only thing I’m sure I see.
You’ve come back to me,
haven’t you, my sweet? From
long ago, and very far. Through
crawling dark, my sweet, you’ve
come back to me, have you? Even
smaller this time than the stars.