Poetry and Meaning, and Can a Poem Just Be?

archibald-macleish-quote-a-poem-should-not-mean-but-be“What exactly does this poem mean?”

That’s the question someone just posted today on one of my YouTube readings from more than a year and a half ago. I’m glad those readings still get attention. I was recording a poem a day during National Poetry Month for a couple of years there, and between that and other random readings I have something like 50+ poetry readings on SoundCloud and 150 on the Tube. So it’s nice to be reminded of poems I liked like this one by Tony Hoagland.

Strange aside: I was thinking this morning how my friends from Northern Ireland might have the pleasure of seeing the ornamental pear trees on my street in full bloom when they come to visit in April. How fortuitous that this poem came to my attention today, in which the video contains both scenes from the trees in my neighborhood (not dogwoods, as in the poem, but close as I could get), and the trees and scenes along the road near the North Coast of Ireland where we last traveled in 2011.

I’ll give you the recording first and then my response to Mike’s question after.

My slightly edited response to Mike’s question:

I’m trying to think of how to answer your question without sounding enigmatic, or worse, pedantic. Archibald MacLeish said, “A poem should not mean, but be.” That might not be helpful, as the meaning and being is made up of the words in the poem, and if it works for you, it works. If it doesn’t it might be a failure in the reading or in the writing.

“What does it mean to you?” is a question that you probably won’t find helpful either, but its point is that you have to find in the poem what is there for you to find. I am guessing that at least you heard something in the words that intrigued you, pulled you in? That’s good. Let it do that. There isn’t always hidden meaning to find. Much of the time it is what the poem says, the emotions it evokes, the new paths that the metaphors might set your thoughts traveling down.

When a poem strikes me as having some significance that I cannot quite pinpoint, I like to spend time with it. Get to know its lines, it’s rhymes and sounds, it’s similes, etc. Usually that’s how the poem reveals itself to me, when I’ve slowed down enough to actually pay attention to it. I like how Billy Collins in his “Introduction to Poetry” says that you have to walk around a poem’s room and “feel its walls for a light switch.”

But I can tell you a bit about what this poem means to me. The poet tries to dismiss the idea of everything in a poem meaning something, that bit about the road: “that doesn’t mean the road is an allegory,” he says. But he is probably being tricksy and putting that thought in our heads, thus making it a metaphor for whatever we need it to be.

It’s that dogwood at the end of the poem, “losing its mind.” It keeps “making beauty, and throwing it away.” Isn’t that what we do? The relationships, the good moments that we fail to treasure, like that dinner at the beginning that he says he was boring during. Missed opportunities? And yet, there are more opportunities ahead, no? Because the tree doesn’t just make beauty and throw it away, it keeps “making more.” For me, that’s what this poem is about, despite what we have wasted, or ignored, there is always more beauty ahead. And maybe the beauty seems to have no purpose. Maybe the beauty is the purpose?

Does that help? What kind of thoughts does the poem bring up for you? I bet you can get even more out of it. Thanks for the comment. I’m eager to see what your response is.

Here again is the text:

“A Color of the Sky”
by Tony Hoagland

Windy today and I feel less than brilliant,
driving over the hills from work.
There are the dark parts on the road
when you pass through clumps of wood
and the bright spots where you have a view of the ocean,
but that doesn’t make the road an allegory.

I should call Marie and apologize
for being so boring at dinner last night,
but can I really promise not to be that way again?
And anyway, I’d rather watch the trees, tossing
in what certainly looks like sexual arousal.

Otherwise it’s spring, and everything looks frail;
the sky is baby blue, and the just-unfurling leaves
are full of infant chlorophyll,
the very tint of inexperience.

Last summer’s song is making a comeback on the radio,
and on the highway overpass,
the only metaphysical vandal in America has written
MEMORY LOVES TIME
in big black spraypaint letters,

which makes us wonder if Time loves Memory back.

Last night I dreamed of X again.
She’s like a stain on my subconscious sheets.
Years ago she penetrated me
but though I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed,
I never got her out,
but now I’m glad.

What I thought was an end turned out to be a middle.
What I thought was a brick wall turned out to be a tunnel.
What I thought was an injustice
turned out to be a color of the sky.

Outside the youth center, between the liquor store
and the police station,
a little dogwood tree is losing its mind;

overflowing with blossomfoam,
like a sudsy mug of beer;
like a bride ripping off her clothes,

dropping snow white petals to the ground in clouds,

so Nature’s wastefulness seems quietly obscene.
It’s been doing that all week:
making beauty,
and throwing it away,
and making more.

“A Color of the Sky” from What Narcissism Means to Me. Copyright © 2003 by Tony Hoagland.

Saturday Song with Puddles Pitty Party

puddlesLess than a half hour left in my Saturday and so I bring you a Saturday Song feature that needs little to no introduction. And to be honest, it’s more fun with next to no explanation. Maybe you’ve seen him already, but I just fell in love with this seven foot clown this week, and man, can he sing!

You can look up Puddles, the Sad Clown with the Golden Voice at PuddlesPityParty.com, like it says on his suit case, but the moment you watch one of the few videos on his YouTube channel, you will find scores of links to videos taken by fans, and unsuspecting strangers on their phones and cameras at various clubs from Seattle, Washington to Bethlehem, PA, including this sad moment in Atlanta. One of my favorites is a very serious, and apparently utterly spontaneous rendition of “Dancing Queen” at Joe’s Coffee Shop in Nashville.

This Saturday Song below was introduced to me by a friend on Facebook this week, and if you don’t recognize the original, you’ll have to look up Lorde’s version. But if you listen to the radio at all, even just in the store, you’ll recognize the lyrics quickly enough. And while Weird Al’s parody was priceless, THIS one, with Puddles and Postmodern Jukebox is undoubtedly my favorite cover of “Royals:”

 Bonus Clip–Puddles, Acapella:

Flashback Friday, Matthew MacFadyen Does Poems

matthew_macfadyen

Matthew Macfadyen (Photo credit: mundo Floser)

I know, the recent trend is Throwback Thursday, but as a poet, I just cannot do it. Too many other meanings to “throwback.” When I was a kid dad took us fishing, and the fish that were too small got thrown back. I cannot help associate throwbacks with things that are not worth keeping, things that must be tossed away as insufficient. Sorry, that’s how my mind works, despite the latest lingo.

I prefer to Flashback, old-fashioned as that sounds in the oh-so-hip world of the interwebs. Be happy that I don’t Flashdance. That would be a disaster, though it would probably be a viral sensation: Poet/Blogger Flashdances to Yeats! Now, that’s an idea. . .

Anyway, yesterday it was a delightful discovery to me to find a video of Samuel West performing a Tom Vaughan poem called “Proposal.” Click back and check it out. It’s only a minute and it’s a treat. Hopefully I’ll be able to find them on CD somewhere. If anyone sees the source on Amazon or Ebay or such, please let me know in the comments.

Mr. West got me thinking of these little clips I shared a couple of years back of Matthew MacFadyen dramatizing poems. And let’s face it, Matthew MacFadyen is not a Throwback. He’s what we call in technical fishing terminology a Keeper. There are more to this series, but the only ones I can find on YouTube are the following three, a heartbreakingly beautiful reading of Yeats, an uplifting interpretation of a Shakespeare sonnet, and a fun portrayal of a William Carlos Williams piece.

Enjoy!

 

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Barbara Brownskirt Sets the Example

National Poetry Month

National Poetry Month (Photo credit: djwudi)

I tried to reblog this video the other night, but for some reason the video wouldn’t play so I had to delete it. When I went back to find it again, I lost track of what blog I had found it on in the first place, so I don’t know if the technical problem ever got solved. So whoever you are, if you are reading this now, thank you so much for introducing me to this brave lady, this “Poet of the People,” as she is called (by herself as best I can tell).

I don’t know where she is from exactly, as she just burst on the scene from the masses of humanity about two months ago, as far as I can tell from her YouTube channel, to become the writer in residence at bus stop 197.

On this (Inter)National Poetry Month many of my friends are engaging in multiple variations of the NaPoWriMo challenge to write a poem a day for the whole month of April. Do you wonder where there inspiration comes from? Does it baffle you how they do it? Well, Barbara Brownskirt shows us in the following video how it’s done. She lives and breathes her poetry morning to night. This is how the poets do it. This is Barbara Brownskirt, Poet of the People.

 

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Happy National Poetry Month, 2014

My recent posts in a Wordle Word Cloud

So, here we are, done with day one of April, 2014. No foolin! And for the first time in years I do not have myself committed to a National Poetry Month Challenge.

In years past I attempted the NaPoWriMo gig of writing a poem each day. I ended up with a lot of great starts, and some really turned into good pieces, but I never ever managed to complete 30 poems in one month. I have some amazing poet friends who have, and who are doing it again this year, so I decided I’d leave that challenge to them, and just personally strive to at least be starting something new as frequently as possible. It has been helpful in stirring the creative source waters.

The last couple of years I made my own challenge here to record and post a poem each day. The first year, 2012 was all YouTube and it was a wonderful experience. Thirty Poets in Thirty Days was the challenge, so only one of them was my own. The rest were from Shakespeare, to Yeats, to Dickinson, Frost, O’Hara and many others. It did however take up at the very least, when I was hurrying and skimming by, two hours of each day, but more often it took about four hours by the the time I had a recording edited, description into YouTube and written commentary into the blog. So none of my friends or family heard from me. Only my work-mates were able to attest to the fact that I was in fact alive and breathing in April of 2012.

But wow, what a learning experience! All the recording and research on the poets and poems, as well as the writing about what I was learning each day, pretty much amounted to a whole semester course on poetry crammed into one month.

My son Jonathan and I trying not to lose it.

My son Jonathan and I trying not to lose it.

Then the next year, 2013 I decided to mix it up just a bit and allow myself to repeat poets if I wanted to, but most importantly for my schedule, I recorded more than half the poems on SoundCloud rather than YouTube. This took a bit less time, as I didn’t have to look pretty,  and could sound poetically legit in my Jammies or boxer shorts. Still it was a college course of fun for me in 2013 as well.

This year Poetry Month sort of creeped up on me unexpectedly. I mean, I knew it was coming, but I had some publishing goals for the end of 2013 that I didn’t quite make, due to a death of a loved one, various illnesses in the family, car repairs, and all those things that life throws at you when it’s not paying sufficient attention to your own plans. So I’ve been working hard at catching up on those publishing goals, including the compilation of my first chapbook that I’m entering into a few contests this year.

So I won’t be writing a poem each day, neither will I be recording one each day, but I’ll try to post once a day to give you info on all the cool things that poets across North America are doing this year (apparently it’s a Canada thing too). I may throw in a reblog or three when I find incredible things that my fellow WordPressers are doing for NPM, and I may bring a few flashbacks out, sort of a Best-of compilation from previous years, whether they be poems I wrote or poems of others I recorded.

If you are new here you can click on the Links above (in bold blue) to look back at the recordings and their companion posts for the last two years, or click here to find the playlists on my YouTube channel, and here to listen in on what I’ve been up to on SoundCloud. The links are also over there on your right in the sidebar if you want to come back later and check them out.

Again, no challenge this year, but I will attempt to post something each day here for National Poetry Month, give or take an hour as I am often sitting down to write here at just around midnight.

So what are you doing for National (ah, go ahead, make it international–March’s World Poetry Day was too short!) Month? Feel free to let me know what you are up to for April in the comments below, whether it be NaPoWriMo or some other crazy fun poetry focus! Happy poeming!

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Bette Midler Meets The Beatles for a Saturday Love Song

all you need is love

all you need is love (Photo credit: katerha)

So the yearly spike in page views, from folks who sadly only Google love poems for Valentine’s Day, has come to an end. You want to say that Valentine’s Day is over? I’ve got news for you, love poems, love songs, turkey, and candy canes are just as delicious on President’s Day, or even Thursday. Love is not relegated to a holiday, my friend, and if I want to listen to Christmas music on a Wednesday in August I will. So there!

I’m all for holidays and celebration, but what’s with all the strict rules about how and which days? When are we going to quit letting the advertising industry tell us when to send flowers, when to read love poems to each other, when it’s okay to eat fruitcake? Okay, okay, so maybe there is no time that’s good to eat fruit cake, but then again, I suspect that’s another bill of goods we’ve been sold. Surely there are people out there who make a smashing, moist and tasty loaf of the stuff.

It’s sad that we are nowhere near as free-spirited and unencumbered by societal expectations as we pretend to be. Sure, traditions are nice. They give some stability to our lives, but not when we are weighed down so much by them that we cannot move freely on our own. I had to work last night, serving amazing food and desserts, opening bottles of wine for lovers of all ages and kinds. So we decided that since I have the weekend off we’d celebrate our love feast today.

Ingredients are ready to make the sauce; strawberries are waiting to dip. Valentine cards have not even been given yet. Later, after dinner, that’s our tradition. It’s Valentine’s’ Day here at our house and I don’t give a flying fruitcake what the calendar says.

So my brother Jeff, in another forum, played a request for Brian and I. It’s a song originally recorded by the Beetles, and I love their little happy ditty, with just a touch of nostalgic melancholy. It’s a classic. But it’s Bette Midler’s version with its slow and sexy tones that I want to dance with my husband to at my wedding. So like Jeff did, I give you both versions. Happy Valentine’s Day. Go read a love poem to someone, even if it’s the cat.

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A Love Song from Elvis, Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie

Pete Seeger concert photo b&w

Pete Seeger concert (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since last Valentine’s day the most popular posts on my pages have undoubtedly been from the series “Love Poems You Wish You had Written,” including this article featuring E. E. Cummings and why his name should be properly capitalized. And if this lights your valentine fires, please see Suzie Grogan’s blog, No Wriggling Out of Writing, in which she was doing a parallel companion series.

So this year over Valentine’s weekend I thought I’d bring you a couple of love songs that I wish I had written. Today’s is in honor of the legendary folk singer Pete Seeger, who passed away in January at the age of 91.

The Rolling Stone posted a little gem of an article this morning which features about ten minutes of “recently unearthed Pete Seeger footage” from a 1961 documentary “Wasn’t That a Time?” Brothers Michael and Philip Burton, the producers of the film were obviously Seeger supporters, but I find it sad that even believers in peace could be so cynical as to describe him as “idealistic to an unrealistic degree,” as if it was perhaps something naive to be “community-minded, obsessed with curing social ills through music.” That sounds like a pretty worthwhile obsession to me. His vision of peace was far ahead of his time, but time will tell whether or not such dreams are unrealistic. I see no value in giving up hope.

Today’s love song was written as something personal and specific, but Arlo Guthrie in a concert with Pete in Denmark made it universal. My brother Jeff first introduced me to an earlier live performance of this story in which Arlo had said that folks songs were not always about “stuff,” but sometimes just the result of an intangible feeling that compels complete strangers to “suddenly erupt into chorus. It’s a heart thing!”

And so appropriate to this day of hearts and love. Listen to Arlo Guthrie, son of Woody Guthrie, and patron saint of “Alice’s Restaurant” tell the story. And watch Pete Seeger and his grandson Tao sing along in this live concert clip from 2008.

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