Sunday, April 12, 2015

Whose words form awkward curves

I have always loved the white grace of these gulls in a photo taken many years ago 
on a boat tour of the Pictured Rocks that edge Michigan's Upper Peninsula. 
It was part of a wonderful rip with our daughters and her two young sons. 
Who would have thought that birds looking for a handout 
from the tourists on the boat could demonstrate such grace?

Notes for Echo Lake 4


Who did he talk to

Did she trust what she saw

Who does the talking

Whose words formed awkward curves

Did the lion finally talk

Did the sleeping lion talk

Did you trust a north window

What made the dog bark

What causes a grey dog to bark

What does the juggler tell us

What does the juggler’s redness tell us

Is she standing in an image

Were they lost in the forest

Were they walking through a forest

Has anything been forgotten

Did you find it in the dark

Is that one of them new atomic-powered wristwatches

Was it called a talking song

Is that an oblong poem

Was poetry the object

Was there once a road here ending at a door

Thus from bridge to bridge we came along

Did the machine seem to talk

Did he read from an empty book

Did the book grow empty in the dark, grey felt hat blowing down the
street, arms pumping back and forth, legs slightly bowed

Are there fewer ears than songs

Did he trust a broken window

Did he wake beneath a tree in the recent snow

Whose words formed difficult curves

Have the exaggerations quieted down

The light is lovely on trees which are not large

My logic is all in the melting-pot

My life now is very economical

I can say nothing of my feeling about space

Nothing could be clearer than what you see on this wall

Must we give each one a name

Is it true they all have names

Would it not have been simpler

Would it not have been simpler to begin

Were there ever such buildings

I must remember to mention the trees

I must remember to invent some trees

Who told you these things

Who taught you how to speak

Who taught you not to speak

Whose is the voice that empties

Michael Palmer  

Earth Took of Earth; 100 great poems of the English language
edited by Jorie Graham, Ecco, 1996, pages 275-277.

I would like you to take a careful and prolonged look at the strategies of this poem. Read it over several times. Read it out loud. It is made of mostly questions without question marks, or other ending punctuation. Each line is separate, and everything on each line is separate from the other lines. (Except for the two-line section--which serves to emphasize the separateness of all the other lines.) The voice of the poem is interrogatory. 

This is the last poem in the book, the other poets were born in 1928 or before--this was part of an early decision by Ms. Graham to limit it this way. She stretched the concept to include two final poets who were born in 1929 and 1930. Michael Palmer was born in 1943. His poem is placed at the end of the book under the word AFTERWORD. Why did the editor include it and label it that way? 

Your poetry task for the next year or more would be to write a short poem 
beginning with each of these lines.

NOTE: This is an anthology unlike any other, definitely worth your time. It begins with one poem before Chaucer and includes Chaucer, Wyatt, Shakespeare, Milton, Blake, other classics and many familiar and well-chosen moderns, one poem apiece. Included are a reasonable amount of women poets and a Navajo War Chant.

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