Poems I’ve Loved This Month: November 2017

Tulip poplar in full fall color: golden

“The Glass Essay” by Anne Carson.

“One way to put off loneliness is to interpose God.”

Corey Van Landingham posted this poem on Facebook. Like everyone else, I’m a fan of Anne Carson’s work — except I hadn’t read this one. It’s long and worth being long. I am glad I did not read it before writing my first book or else there would have been no first book to write.

In it, Carson’s speaker weaves together a biography of Emily Bronte, a trip to the moors with her elderly mother, and the time spent in heartbreak. To oversimplify, this is a break up poem. It’s also an ars poetica. Why do some people get hurt? Why do some people observe? Why become an artist? Why become angry?

Or, as the poem puts it: “What is prior? // What is love? / My questions were not original. / Nor did I answer them.”

And it’s these questions, unoriginal but essential, that map themselves onto the moors for the speaker, the curtains her mother wishes she’d draw, the “glimpses… of soul” the speaker comes to call “Nudes,” the idea of Bronte’s idea of God, the characters of Wuthering Heights, sexuality.

It was about this time
I began telling Dr. Haw

about the Nudes. She said,
When you see these horrible images why do you stay with them?
Why keep watching? Why not

go away? I was amazed.
Go away where? I said.
This still seems to me a good question.

Why keep watching?
Some people watch, that’s all I can say.
There is nowhere else to go,

no ledge to climb up to.
Perhaps I can explain this to her if I wait for the right moment,
as with a very difficult sister.

‘On that mind time and experience alone could work:
to the influence of other intellects it was not amenable,’
wrote Charlotte of Emily.

The word “question” is repeated 12 times in the poem; the word “Nude” 25 times. There are 54 question marks. No answers in the poem, but glimpses of soul; the images those soul-pieces project themselves onto.

And in all of this, the self-indictment, the hurt feelings, the cold confusion of loving and no longer being loved. The line Corey quoted:

Perhaps the hardest thing about losing a lover is / to watch the year repeat its days.

Seriously. This one. Read it.

(Also Wuthering Heights is one of my favorite books and one of the few novels I’ve re-read.)

From “Oil” by Fatimah Asghar.*

We got sent home early
& no one knew why. I think we

are at war! I yelled to my sister
knapsacks ringing

against our backs. I copy
-catted from Frances

who whispered it when the teachers
got silent. Can’t blame

me for taking a good idea.
I collect words where I find them.

Read this poem on the Poetry website to see it in its true form (which I was unable to achieve here), or in the print edition (November issue). I think print actually enhances it a bit — all the white space, a full page, around each part presented in its glorious quiet, the threat and suffocation of the quiet, the whispering “bombbombbombbombbombbombbombbombbombbombbombbombbomb” into sheets as a child whose “people might / be Afghani” post-9/11. This narrative poem, about identity formation, agency, and the collection of words, what one person can accumulate over a lifetime or in mere weeks, how the speaker scavenges for words, “know[s] that word’s not meant for [them] but [they] collect words / where [they] find them.”

This poem is a lesson in narrative poetry — how to hook with clarity and concision — and is the reason her book If They Come for Us is one I’m excited to read in 2018.

Rastros Corporales: Blood on Canvas: Ana Mendieta: 1982″ by Leslie Sainz^.

… it is near-game, this tracking of pulse and surplus/
when your country says give, you drain despite the clots.

I actually read this poem first a few months ago and have returned several times since: it holds so many mysteries, reading it is intoxicating. Poem as lure, me as fish. I felt not smart enough to talk about it then, and probably am not now, but if I wait until I am, I’ll never tell you about it, which would be a major loss for you.

Another ars poetica. This ekphrastic poem ironically reminds me of a watercolor because of its form — impressionistic, unassuming: a prose poem with line breaks hatched in, as one might write in a notebook. (See the art it takes as its subject here.) But the form is interesting because of the tension it creates with its subject: both the Ana Mendieta artifact (paintings made in a performance art piece in which slid her forearms down blank paper) from “Body Tracks” and the images the speaker shares.

As the title suggests, the corporal is central here — even the dice are “tooth-shaped.” But the speaker floats from body to body, an imagination more than a self (or the imagination is the self, the body is what’s imagined and experienced), the “you” she’s speaking to slippery — a beloved but what kind of beloved — the kind you’d paint a canvas with blood for, the kind who would bleed themselves for country “despite the clots” — a country, a mother, a lover, the reader? Why choose?

The genius of the poem — much of it in the syntax, the accumulation of meaning or allowance for different readings through commas and breaks — is how specific it is while letting in so many alternate realities — the speaker and the “you” transmorph into “dehydrated eels,” “polizia nacional rolling tooth-shaped dice,” from experience into image into sound.

In the past few years, poems in columns that can be read in different order for different meaning have come into vogue (and some are truly great), but here readers get many of these benefits in a sleeker shell; there is constraint and restraint, but it’s masked in a certain ease. More tension. Despite the slipperiness of image, of language, this speaker doesn’t let anything slip, even “blood on canvas” looks effortless without knowing the performance, the life, the politics that put it there. Factoring in not only the painting but Mendieta’s life as an artist, her death (a suicide, an accident, or a murder by her then-boyfriend and fellow artist), and the feminist response to all of the above, and “Body Tracks” and blood imbue meaning.

^I already told you all Leslie Sainz is a genius and saint. I meant it. Read her work now and say you knew it when.

“Woo Woo Roll Deep” by Angel Nafis.

… You can’t tell us
shit. We always down for the miracle.
The regular-as-fuck dawn making brand new
the farm of our hearts.

This poem is a joy. Reading it is a joy, it displays joy, howling it aloud is a joy. Calling or IMing your girlfriends about it is a joy. (And as Toi Derricotte says, “Joy is an act of resistance.”) Here, I mean joy in its fullest sense: that belly laugh heartbreak, the tattoo of dead lovers, the combination of unabashed support, astonishment, touch, and eyeroll that is female friendship. In the world of this poem, the police still kill citizens, but “A week after the 314th police killing this / year, Jenna mixes up a tincture…” Everyone reads their Chani Nicholas* horoscope and collates her affirmations with their upcoming periods. Walls are painted “miss-my-daddy red.” There’s tea and crystals and hopes for solutions and superstition and no guilt. As a proud-of-herself weirdo, I love other proud-of-themselves weirdos, of which this speaker is certainly one. I bow to the light in this poem. Woo woo.

*If you are not already, you really should probably be reading your horoscope from Chani Nicholas.

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2 Replies to “Poems I’ve Loved This Month: November 2017”

    1. Thank you! After spending the last while intensively on my own work, it’s helping me to dive back in as a fan (I mean, reader). I hope you continue to enjoy.

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