Monday, May 26, 2014

Franks and Beans

It was a beautiful sunny day in the back yard. Just a slight breeze, the whuffle of a pair of mallards in flight, the repeated calling of the red-wing blackbird. Sunlight and shadow. It would have been a good day for a potluck. I have been thinking about my old friend, Phyllis Koestenbaum and how hard she worked, revising seriously, relentlessly! on her "criminal sonnets" sharp little detail-filled sonnet-length poems based on her life, her Jewish heritage, and her relentless thinking, trying to make sense of it all. I think she wrote at least 500 of them. On the back of her book Criminal Sonnets, Jacaranda Press, 1998, it states that there are 367 of these poems, of which 66 have been selected for the book of that title. This book is still available on Amazon; I can definitely recommend it! Here is one of my favorites:


To the potluck I took hot dogs and beans;
our neighbor, greens: her child's heart was repaired.
Another miracle: the humpback's red-haired
kids who swim, can thank him for their beauty.
I said little. An overweight, pretty
young mother spoke freely. Before
he blessed, the Father joked about morals,
God's versus ours. I didn't laugh. Knitting,
I was feeling sorry for the person
I was, knitting. Who'd say benediction
should my unaffiliated son
reach Eagle like the Greek Orthodox server
thanking his folks unsyntactically.
In error, my son once ate Christ's body.

Phyllis Koestenbaum, Criminal Sonnets, page 21.

Look at the subtle rhymes, interior rhymes, and off-rhymes in this poem. Look at the great amount of material compressed into such a small space! Think about this kind of serious practice for yourself. One of my friends write 4 lines (like a classical Chinese poem!) every night sitting in her bed just before she turned out the light. She could look back at any time and see where she was or what she was thinking on the same date in previous years. She kept the 5x8 journals she used on shelves in order. I have always admired people who created these practices for themselves. In a way, during the last year, this blog has become such a daily practice for me, but I am still working on how I would like it to be formed and the balance and vibrations between my day, photographs, memory threads, and the poems, mostly by other poets.

In my memory, when Phyllis was working on this poem, in the mid-1980s, it began, "To the potluck I took franks and beans." Franks is the word, and makes the chunky rhythm, I still like and sometime I think I might ask her why she changed it.

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