Friday, November 12, 2010

Poetry Friday: Apples and Indirection

Laurie Lee, photographed by Bill Brandt

Sentimentality is regarded, properly, as lethal when it comes to poetry. What you want in poetry (maybe I should say what I want) is not overt sentiment but the observable world; that is, not grief but "for all the history of grief, / an empty doorway and a maple leaf." (Archibald MacLeish.) Not abstractions, but the world of birds, bugs, rivers, pearl buttons, ginger snaps, the muscles of the arm, a suspension bridge, a peony, oars in a rusty oarlock. 

But wanting a poem to be heartfelt - that's what I've been puzzling over for the last year or two: how to make room for sentiment without becoming sentimental. It's hard to stay balanced. What needs to be done is to talk about something by talking about something else - it's basic, it's what metaphorical thinking is all about, it's what a magician does with sleight of hand - misdirect the audience's attention.

For this week's Poetry Friday, the day after Veteran's Day, I'm offering up a poem by Laurie Lee, an English poet whose memoir (Cider with Rosie) I read because a close friend insisted I should (he was right - I loved it.) This poem is just what I'm talking about when I say "indirection." It's a poem about apples, and it is about apples, thank God -  but also about much more. I gave this poem to my mother when my dad died - it said more than I felt able to say about her grief, though maybe a combination of both (direct, indirect) is how you best handle "the season's dole." Mom married my dad just before he shipped out for the Philippines during WWII. I think of this poem when Veterans' Day comes around each year.

The last of our apples have fallen to the ground now - it's November, how did November happen? - and I've been putting the rotten ones into the compost. Windfall apples are on my mind. So is my mom. So are boys eating apples, growing into young men who go to war.  November thoughts.


Behold the apples’ rounded worlds:
juice-green of July rain,
the black polestar of flowers, the rind
mapped with its crimson stain.

The russet, crab and cottage red
burn to the sun’s hot brass,
then drop like sweat from every branch
and bubble in the grass.

They lie as wanton as they fall,
and where they fall and break,
the stallion clamps his crunching jaws,
the starling stabs his beak.

In each plump gourd the cidery bite
of boys’ teeth tears the skin;
the waltzing wasp consumes his share,
the bent worm enters in.

I, with as easy hunger, take
entire my season’s dole;
welcome the ripe, the sweet, the sour,
the hollow and the whole. 

                        Laurie Lee

"Wanton" apples....ready for that stallion Lee mentions....

Laurie Lee continued his memoir with two other volumes, taking him from childhood to manhood - and since one of them deals with his war experiences (As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning: A Moment of War) his poem seems especially appropriate for the Veterans Day we just experienced yesterday (see also my last post, which addressed Veteran's Day more directly - well, there was some indirection there, too - it talks about Robespierre and chocolate rats.) I'm hoping that some veterans come home from the current wars still able to see the sweet and the whole, not just the sour and the hollow.
UPDATE: I'm keeping this post up for a second week, so for today, November 19, the Poetry Friday round-up is over at Random Noodling. Go there, follow the links to other poems, other blogs. And definitely read the poem Diane has posted there by Kevin Young. It's wonderful

Poetry Friday for 11/12 is being hosted by SCRUB-A-DUB-TUB - go there, take a, I mean go there take a look at what people are posting.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Poetry Friday: War, Love, Poets and Chocolate Rats

Edward Thomas

In honor of Veteran's Day on the 11th, I'm posting a love poem written by Edward Thomas, a Welsh poet, friend of Robert Frost, who was killed in action in France during the Battle of Arras, April, 1917. Arras is also known as the birthplace of that architect of the Reign of Terror, Maximilien de Robespierre. It was also laid siege to in 1640 during the Thirty Years War. It's equally famous for being the town where 250 suspected Resistance fighters were executed by the Germans during WWII. Hitler's favorite general, Erwin Rommel (aka The Desert Fox) was decorated with an Iron Cross for his role in capturing Arras, and the fall of the town led to the British evacuation of soldiers from the beaches at Dunkirk (described so agonizingly in Ian McEwan's Atonement.) Not a good place for a soldier to pass the time of day,  no matter what the century.  The town is well-known now for its heart-shaped cookies, Couers d'Arras, which come in two flavors, ginger and cheese, and for little chocolate rats stuffed with pralines. There are probably German and British tourists (with no desire to kill each other) all over the town each summer, shopping side by side for heart-shaped biscuits and nibbling away at chocolate rats. I wish one of the strolling tourists could be Edward Thomas, alive and well , an old man, but still writing poetry.  

Robespierre, Who Looks a Bit 
Like a Rat Stuffed with Pralines


After you speak
And what you meant
Is plain,
My eyes
Meet yours that mean---
With your cheeks and hair---
Something more wise,
More dark,
And far different.
Even so the lark
Loves dust
And nestles in it
The minute
Before he must
Soar in lone flight
So far,
Like a black star
He seems---
A mote
Of singing dust
That dreams
And sheds no light.
I know your lust
Is love.
                 -Edward Thomas
 Poetry Friday this week is rounded-up over at Teaching Authors. Head over there to see what other people have posted.