Sunday, February 23, 2014

Take Jack

This is a musical group with a beautiful, almost unearthly sound! They create much of their own music and they are called Take Jack. Today the Sacramento Poetry Center held a special event in a large space in the Sacramento Public Library featuring their music and special setting of the poems of the featured reader, Stephen Dunn and Sacramento poet Kathleen Lynch. I drove up with two friends. It certainly was worth the trip! Dunn's wife, nature writer Barbara Hurd, read from her new book written in partnership with painter Patricia Hilton, Stepping into the Same River Twice, Savage River Watershed Association, 2013. The book is almost equal parts pastel paintings and short prose texts which were created during visits to the river by the talented pair.

Here is one of the poems that Stephen read today. It was in the brochure we all got; I think it is from his book, Loosestrife, Norton, 1998

Tiger Face

Because you can be what you’re not
for only so long,
one day the tiger cub raised by goats

wandered to the lake and saw himself.
It was astounding
to have a face like that, cat-handsome,

hornless, and we can imagine he stared
a long time, then sipped
and pivoted, bemused yet burdened now

with choice. The mother goat had nursed him.
The others had tolerated
his silly quickness and claws.

And because once you know who you are
you need not rush,
and good parents are a blessing

whoever they are, he went back to them,
rubbing up against
their bony shins, keeping his secret to himself.

but after a while the tiger who’d found
his true face
felt the disturbing hungers, those desires

to get low in the reeds, swish his tail
Because he was a cat he disappeared

without goodbyes, his goat-parents relieved
such a thing was gone.
And we can imagine how, alone and beyond

choice, he wholly became who he was—
that zebra or gazelle
stirring the great blood rush and odd calm

as he discovered, while moving, what needed
to be done.

Stephen Dunn

This is, I think, a terrific poem! It moves right along without making a false step. This is a very good example of the type of poem that relates a story or fable. I think it would be a good poem to study with an English class. Notice the variation in line lengths and how the poem flows across the line breaks so smoothly. And how the details are so well worked-out (through observation of people, cats and goats!) and support the story. Also look for Stephen Dunn's very new book, Lines of Defense, Norton, 2014. Earlier he won the Pulitzer Prize for his book, Different Hours, which is also a fine introduction to his poetry. It was an excellent event; I am really glad I got to attend!

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