Yearly Archives: 2006

Whistling Shade

My poem “Late Afternoon, February 16, 1905” has been published in the Fall 2006 issue of Whistling Shade. It appears both in print and online: www.whistlingshade.com. The poem is a fictionalized account of the arrival of my grandmother Katarzyna Bryniarska Stanek and her son Andrew in the United States. It has only recently come to my attention that the daughter mentioned in the poem did not, in fact, die aboard ship but arrived with her mother and brother. Anna lived into her 80’s in suburban Buffalo.

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A Chorus Line

New York, October 25, 2006: Saw A Chorus Line, the broadway show in which my nephew, Tyler Hanes, plays Larry the dance captain. Since I did not see the original 30 years ago as did my friend Steven, I can’t comment on a comparison. Today’s version is supposed to be an exact duplication of the original, right down to the material of the costumes. Tyler is an energetic dancer, bleached out hair and all. Check out the link to his website or visit www.broadway.com for more info.

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ArtWorks and PoetWords

I have recently been invited to participate in a poet/artist collaborative project called ArtWorks and PoetWords. More than 70 poets and visual artists have been randomly paired and will work together to create original work to be shown during National Poetry Month (April 2007).

Antoni Ooto and I will be working together during the next five months. We have already met twice and have decided on an initial concept. For more information on Antoni and his work as well as the Rochester Art Club, check out the links on this page.

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Recent Publication

My poem “Appendage” appears in the Fall 2006 issue of Main Channel Voices. To order a copy, visit the link on this page. Though the journal does place some of its contents on its web site, mine is only in the print version.

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Annotation on She Had Some Horses

This 1983 collection is a demonstration of thematic and phraseological repetition. When done well, Harjo succeeds in creating the feel of a chant or meditation. Twenty-two years after the book’s publication, however, there are some word choices that might not work if first presented in today’s poetry culture.

The book is divided into four sections: “Survivors,” “What I Should Have Said,” “She Had Some Horses,” and “I Give You Back.” The first and most lengthy section establishes the poet’s terms as a basis for the entirety of the book. In 25 poems, Harjo enlightens us on various aspects of blood, earth, breath, stars, birth and voice, using each noun at least eight times, not to mention the anchor of the book: horses. Yet, she does so in a way that the reader does not feel compelled to close the book screaming, “Enough!”

Earth is the subject most frequently treated by the poet. It is described as “boiling” and “cooking” beneath us in “Anchorage,” (14) as if preparing to give rise to an uncertain newness. In “For Alva Benson, And For Those Who Have Learned To Speak,” (18) the earth acts as midwife as a Navajo woman “squatted down against the earth / to give birth.” The ground spoke then and continued to speak when birthing became the business of hospitals. Eventually, a woman is born who “learned to speak for the ground” after people learned to ignore it speaking for itself. The earth murmurs and “spinning beneath us / goes on talking.”

It is the intricate dance of this earth, along with the sky and stars that make the poet “memory alive” in “Skeleton of Winter” (31) as all three circle her heart. Harjo and / or the speaker of her poems speak often of the heart, perhaps a little too often by today’s standards, not just in the first section of the book, but in the other three as well. Whether these are “hearts / that would break into pieces” as in “Kansas City” (33) or are unwanted as in “Your Phone Call At 8 AM” (57) where “what you wanted, this morning / you said, was a few words / and not my heart,” the heart has lost much of its poetic magic from decades, if not centuries of trite overuse.

Breath and breathing are succumbing to the same problem in contemporary literature. Harjo asks the reader to “Remember your birth, how your mother struggled / to give you form and breath.” This particular poem, “Remember” (40), seems to encapsulate nearly all of Harjo’s key elements in this book: sky, stars, moon, sun, birth, earth, voice and dance. These are all essentials of the Native American culture the poet calls upon her readers to remember, most to which a person of any ethnic background could relate, in a global sense.

The third section is the title section, “She Had Some Horses,” (63) a poem in five parts. While horses appear throughout the book it is here that they are ascribed their identities by the poet. “She” is, presumably, Mother Earth in which all things originate. Her horses were “maps of drawn blood” or war; they “licked razor blades” or acted destructively. They “cried in their beer” and “lied.” Her horses, personified, were both loved and hated. Harjo selects the past tense here, as if to say to the reader that Mother is done with her work. Then in the last section of the poem, “Explosion,” (68) she offers us possibilities such as “a new people, coming forth” and tells us “maybe the explosion was horses” that will enable some “to see who they have become.”

The final section of the book is one poem, “I Give You Back.” (73) The speaker of the poem is done with fear, reinforced by her chant-like repetition of “I release you” four times followed by eight “I am not afraid” declarations. She declares, “I take myself back, fear.” Then, having experienced what fear has had to offer, the poet completes the book with a newfound confidence “But come here, fear / I am alive and you are so afraid / of dying.//”

There is a delicate balance between the judicious yet intentional use of repetitive thematic elements and phraseology and their overuse. Threads skillfully woven throughout a book keep the reader from being distracted by them, creating a pattern similar to weavings done by peoples indigenous to the southwest. The difficulty lies in determining just how obvious that pattern should be, and, if recreating in poetry a pattern like the art of the Navajo, determining where the requisite flaw should be.

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Annotation on A Tomb for Anatole

A Tomb for Anatole (Pour un tombeau d’Anatole) is a fascinating translation of fragmentary notes written by French poet Stéphane Mallarmé after the sad but not altogether unexpected death of his son Anatole at the age of eight. The boy had never really been completely well from birth and his mother’s pregnancy had been difficult. By the medical standards of the late 19th century, Anatole had been diagnosed with children’s rheumatism, his symptoms being joint pain and a perpetually swollen abdomen.

Paul Auster, who translated Mallarmé’s fragments, comments in his introduction “This is one of the most moving accounts of a man trying to come to grips with modern death—that is to say, death without God, death without hope of salvation…” This comment made these fragments even more despairing for me to read. It is difficult enough to consider the death of any child, even more so the death of one’s own child. However, it is most difficult to read of such a painful loss knowing that the parents did not have any kind of faith to support them and, as Auster writes, “In this time of crisis even art failed Mallarmé” since he was unable to finish the long poem his notes suggest he would have written. The intended poem would have had four parts. Some of the fragments state for which part they were intended.

Auster describes the framents as “a kind of ur-text, the raw data of the poetic process” and most of them are just that. Auster also writes a disclaimer with which I would, in part, disagree:
Although they seem to resemble poems on the page, they should not be confused with poetry per se. Nevertheless, more than one hundred years after they were written, they are perhaps closer to what we today consider possible in poetry than at the time of their composition.

I would propose, rather, that some of these fragments are poems in and of themselves merely written at least 50 years ahead of their time. In my reckoning, nine of the 202 fragments could certainly qualify as poems by today’s standards, more if one is open to a much more abstract consideration of a poem. One such fragment poem is number 7 “what has taken refuge / your future in me / becomes my / purity through life, / which I shall not / touch— //. Mallarmé believed that his son was not really dead as long as the boy lived within his memory, creating a sense of the sacred within himself.

A sense of presence beyond death is conveyed in fragment number 30 “brother sister / not ever the absent one / — / will not be less than / the one present—//.” This brief but concise poem of five lines quietly expresses the poet’s attempt to rationalize his loss by the very life of his daughter and does so perhaps more effectively than had the poet employed the conventions and constraints of his time.

We see denial demonstrated in fragment 93 which was designated for section 2 of the poem never written “the pious / burial of the / body, makes myste- / riously—this / admitted fiction— //” where being laid to rest becomes “fiction,” unreal for the poet. I would disagree with Auster’s insistence on breaking the lines awkwardly in the English translation for the sake of mirroring the original French. I would have broken “mysteriously” as “myster- / iously.” But, Auster is not claiming any of these fragments as poems so his decision to keep the translation letter for letter as it appears on the page in French makes sense authentically.

Fragment 129 speaks to me as if it were the title poem:

no death—you will not
deceive him—
–I take advantage of the fact

that you deceive him
–for his happy
ignorance
–but on the other hand
I take it back from you
for the ideal tomb

I agree with Auster’s assertion that Mallermé would not have completed his intended long poem for that would have been Anatole’s entombment and not entombed he lives on, even beyond his loving father.

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