THE MIRACLE OF SECRETS REVEALED IN POETRY
Updated: Nov 7
I don't always get it right. Not the first time, and not 100%. Sometime later I usually do. It's like when I write; I have to circle the proverbial mulberry bush and then one day, bingo! I land in the center of the target.
A few years ago, after shopping at Target retail outlets for year and years...and years (since I'm accomplishing 80 years of age in a week), I was entering one store and glanced at the huge red sculptural balls outside the front door. I connected them in my mind with the Target logo, the concentric circles in the same bold red and...yes, bingo! I realized that the balls and the logo were actually "targets!" Well, duh!
I always said I was a late bloomer (I rest my case). Sometimes I need help, if not adult supervision...
Not long ago in a prior blog I suggested that one important role of a piano teacher was to help us see "new horizons." I meant that they help raise curtains from the eyes of the willing student, or in the case of a music student, take cotton out of our ears. In those moments we "get it" or "hear it" or "understand it." That's the "It" that all along might have been staring us in the face, but no matter -- we were blind or halt or lame, until one day we are not.
All the critical or academic pedagogical theory in the world won't convince me that there is not some kind of miracle and grace involved in that process.
Understanding happens when the teacher and the student mind-meld, one offering and one receiving in some kind of ritual master/mistress-student relationship that can provide a peak experience in life, at least for me.
It happened again last night in the third of eight two-hour poetry classes I'm taking, sponsored by Lighthouse Writers Association and taught by an inspiring and amicable teacher, Regis University Associate Professor of English, Alyse Knorr. Our class theme was sound: the varieties and importance in poetry of sound, focusing in part on use, and the bodily feeling, of the vowels and consonants. We also discussed stanza breaks.
An amazing thing happened to me during the class: on two occasions I felt ready tears well up, and I felt deeply touched.
Because I had two eureka moments understanding something critical and clearly helpful to my future writing and reading of poetry. I've only very recently taken one five session one-hour zoom introductory poetry class, and am watching the fabulous "MoPo" classes both of which Coursera.com offers. This is my first formal, detailed class (with feedback on some of my poems) in interpreting, understanding, or writing poetry. I have always been drawn to read certain poets (Dickenson, Rumi, Yeats, Emerson, Donne ignoring his horrible sexism, but it's hard to do, Shakespeare of course, and lately, Rothke). On occasion from high school on, I've written a poem or two and tucked them away in a writing file. For some reason, I'm now ready to learn about poetry, having written about 200 plus poems in the past two-plus years, and then gone in search of online classes.
During class in the moment of my tears, I felt as if I had been let into a hidden secret lying behind poetic words. I was being honored to be included by my teacher in a special society whose senior, experienced members already understood these things. I felt respected, encouraged, and hopeful. I began to feel less lost in the arena of poetry, like when my second piano teacher introduced the importance of analyzing the structure of a music composition before diving into it.
It felt thrilling.
So how did this come about? The poetry connossieur may wish to find out by reading the footnote below.*
For now I'll say that the poems I've written to date are principally and intimately connected with my reborn love of music and the piano (I'm now curious about why that is, and apparently is a common way to come to poetry--subject of a coming blog!). Over the past two years or so, poems automatically well up and pour out of me without too much thought, usually with not much rewriting, and not understanding one thing about what I was doing!
They come to me from mysterious sources such as exiting from a dream state upon waking, while standing in a warm shower or walking in a nearby wild park, when listening to a new and thrilling or disturbing piece of music, or when viewing an operatic scene that was impactful in some way. (Check out opera soprano Marie Ewing's minutes-long, frenetic, riveting, Dance of the Seven Veils in Strauss' opera, "Salome" which inspired my poem below. The dance ended in Ewing being naked for a few seconds and was entirely fitting to represent the insanity of Salome in the moment.)
My poems are by now collected in three volumes (my third manuscript has just been completed and is available in Advance Readers Copy for critical input and blurbs; if interested kindly email me at email@example.com.) I'm awaiting notice from distributor Ingram Spark as to when online retailers will have the first two volumes for sale.
In this poetry class I'm learning important things about the intentional crafting and elements of poetry (vs. prose, fiction, or non-fiction writing). I'm re-reading my own poems to understand WTF I have been inadvertently doing with sound, with line breaks, with metaphors and similes, and with other poetic elements I am now identifying.
Most of the time I entertain myself quite well by reading and re-reading my poetry; pride of ownership I guess. At least it keeps me off the streets and out of mischief!
I now understand that a poetry teacher basically raises curtains hiding valuable, gobsmacking, and delightful secrets of the craft, just like an effective piano teacher helps the willing student to hear. Both then help the student to replicate what is good, wise, credibly sound (pun intended!), and wonderful in the particular art they are practicing in order to self-express.
*The cause of one incident of tears was the title repeated in the first line of a poem by Wordsworth: "when lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd."
All of a sudden I was amazed when I heard Alyse explain how this famous poet started by using soft, gentle, and comforting consonants (the "l") often used in lullabies, vs. the hard sound of the "p" and "b" consonants. But within just seven words he took us into the hard, gutteral sounds of "d" and "b" and thus conveyed a deepening sense of gloom, doom, and possible death.
Immediately I wanted to know if Whitman intended to do that or just instinctively did it? Apparently the answer is that educated and aware poets do it more often than newbies to the craft, and some poets do it naturally without much thought, relying on their poetic intuition and feeling. I suspect however, that the intuitive poets are well read, think a lot, and somehow have absorbed words and sounds at a deep level.
The second thing that caused tears to well up was a stanza break occurring in two poems. In one poem with a major theme of a young girl's alcoholic father who took her to a baseball game, the mother warned her daughter three times to "be careful." But there was a stanza break between the second "be careful" and the third "be careful." That break jarred the reader creating an emphasizes on the mother's concern, raised a sense of foreboding, and told the reader something about the child's lack of security and confusion regarding her loving pop on this particular day.
In a second poem, the poet reminisced about an incident in her childhood when she was dangling her feet in the river. After one line ended in the word "dangling," the poet employed an enjambment (a line that runs on to the next line) and then a stanza break to continue the sentence that the girl was danging her feet "in the river." The word "dangling" physically dangled over the next line about the river, in a visual enactment of what the poet was describing!
How miraculous! How intentional, as it seemed to me. But was it?
I guess I'll never know, although sometimes Alyse calls a sister or fellow poet to ask if they intended this or that, and ask other professional questions.
No matter; what a wonderful secret was now revealed to and appreciated by this new poet!
* * *
SHOCK UPON WATCHING "SALOME"
Jokanann, Oh! One of red viper tongue,
And Strauss the master of your fate!
What chills the soul beyond despair?
Salome pets the head of black, black locks
Then throws it to the birds of prey
Who lurking there, or dogs in lair,
Devour what has been done.
She, the child unborn, the slime desire come undone.
At last, the morsel repast or what is left,
The whitest white she sings of skin,
The blackest hair, the lust within unleashed.
To win her prize, this priceless diva
Releases demons to unfold.
And dances to show her liege, the king,
How easy will he bend to darkest dreams
That seized her soul.
Ewing,* now having come upon despair
Waiting there to seize her from within,
Stripped bare to flesh upon the stage, now in her rage
And unjust reward,
Descends to kiss the mouth.
Her eyes ore-glazed with hellish glow,
Upon us all she does bestow
A deadly chill. We cannot look, we cannot leave,
Our soul with hers is interweaved,
As all stare on the horror song
That takes us down with her.
So what is left when Strauss is done,
The deed begun by flesh made bare?
Who is to blame, what name the game?
The king? Her? Or love’s deadly fang?
She sinks her teeth into our souls
No matter sun or fire,
While Strauss takes us down with unremitting desire
That consumes us all, as “Salome” unfolds.
*Maria Ewing (1950-1922) was an American opera singer
who performed as a lyric mezzo-soprano, but later assumed
full soprano parts as well. One of her signature roles was
Salome in the opera of the same name by Richard Strauss,
which performance included her naked dance sequence.
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