Thursday, August 29, 2013

Poetry Today: Trends and Traditions 4
Edited by Anthony Servante





Let’s discuss the premise before looking at the words. It is an axiom in academic writing that poetry must speak for itself. A writer cannot interpret meaning for the reader, giving insight to his own words as if the words required his presence to clarify the work’s intents. The poem must stand up to the scrutiny of the reader alone. With this axiom in mind, we proceed to our poetry for today; we have works by Lori R. Lopez, A.D. Blacet, Jennifer Litt, Lawrence Hammond, & a special appearance by Alma E. Cervantes.

The poems for today’s column are for a one-time use and the authors retain full ownership.


We begin with Lori R. Lopez.


Lori R. Lopez


Biography:

Lori R. Lopez is the author of CHOCOLATE-COVERED EYES, AN ILL WIND BLOWS, THE MACABRE MIND OF LORI R. LOPEZ, DANCE OF THE CHUPACABRAS, OUT-OF-MIND EXPERIENCES, THE FAIRY FLY, POETIC REFLECTIONS: KEEP THE HEART OF A CHILD and more. She is a resident of Southern California who has been an avid horror fan since she was born or thereabouts. A writer of prose and poetry, she pens a semi-monthly column called "Poetic Reflections" that contains dark verse and humor. She is also an artist who does her own book covers and illustrations. Although she enjoys a variety of genres, Horror is Lori's favorite and she takes delight in chilling your blood as well as your bones. Better dress warm.

You can find her stories and verse online and through bookstores. They have appeared in anthologies such as MIRAGES: TALES FROM AUTHORS OF THE MACABRE, MASTERS OF HORROR: DAMNED IF YOU DON’T, DARLINGS OF DECAY, I BELIEVE IN WEREWOLVES, SOUP OF SOULS, THIRSTY ARE THE DAMNED, and SCARE PACKAGE: 14 TALES OF TERROR. Fifteen of Lori’s poems were published for an anthology titled IN DARKNESS WE PLAY.



Poems:

quantum
A scrap of Evil once flaked off
And floated on a wicked wind
To touch a woman giving birth
She clenched her babe to stay within
The particle resumed its flight
As the mother's final breath expired
Its subsequential resting place
Would be a Norseman's funeral pyre
He rose up out of flaming death
To brandish sword and wreak despair
An orange corona framed his skull
Which reeked of ire and burning hair
The grim iota thencely sought
A queen to reign for just a speck
She sent her army off to meet
A cruel demise for that stray fleck
It drifted then upon a horsey
Who bucked a cowboy's head clean off
Devoured the clowns and rodeo fans
And anyone who had to cough
The smidge of Evil wafted over
To land upon a hummingbird
That pecked the eyes of passersby
It thought to be absurd
The grain would fly onto a sister
Whose habit was to feed the needy
The nun poured poison on the food
Declaring hunger greedy!
That element had flitted next
To a sorcerer whose destiny
To wave his arms, conduct the stars
Aligned them alphabetically
This repercussed in untold ways
And could have left Earth in the dark
A cold and barren hunk of rock
Bereft of heat, forlornly stark
But the quantum flotsam came to rest
On an evildoer's takeout meal
Two wrongs added up into a force
That Energy, Space and Time could feel
The stars rearranged to their proper place
Disrupting the chip off Evil's curse
Though the fact remains that a tiny change
Could upset the balance of the universe!


truth lies
Without peace
The world is a target range
A stifled breath
A bleak sky with the hollow threat of thunder
Ominous and empty without rain
Thinking back to the sound
The pure rhythm, soothing and honest
Therein lies truth
Without trust there is no peace
Without truth there can be no trust
In the past is planted the future
And born the present
Perhaps without conception
Or love
A thoughtless transaction
The progression of time
Invisible at the present
Yet so evident in the future
Gentle, exquisite, then destructive
Heartbreaking in the end
An unbroken flow like water
Spills from a mountain
We are swept along with the current
Head over heels
Learning to swim after we learn to walk
To stay afloat in the rush
Of life's moments
Where truth lies
In a closed mind
Like an unread book
But trust flourishes in the open
Like raising a sash
To smell and feel the rain.


Critique:

“quantum” is a story in verse form, an “homage” (intended?) to Edmund Spencer’s The Faerie Queen. “Spenser only completed half of The Faerie Queene he planned. In a letter to Sir John Walter Raleigh, he explained the purpose and structure of the poem. It is an allegory, a story whose characters & events nearly all have a specific/symbolic meaning. The poem's setting is a mythical "Faerie land," ruled by the Faerie Queene” (Wiki). As such, Lori incorporates a medieval-like era where “a cowboy” can exist (perhaps because of “evil’s influence). For Spencer, his land was a metaphor for England; for Lori, it is Earth caught between good and evil, an allusion, most likely, to the rise of the Anit-Christ, but set in a “fairy tale” land. As the threat of the “evil” grows relevant to the reader, the allegory shifts tone, and we now have a warning of biblical proportions:

“Two wrongs added up into a force
That Energy, Space and Time could feel
The stars rearranged to their proper place
Disrupting the chip off Evil's curse
Though the fact remains that a tiny change 
Could upset the balance of the universe!“

Whereas Spencer sought only to treat his fairy-land and characters as political allegory, Lori has a bigger theme in mind. First, she sets up the reader to follow a blank verse version of an olden tale, but then she shifts tone to shades of Armageddon. If I didn’t know better, I’d say this were a biblical allegory. If I didn’t know better.


What I enjoy most about “truth lies”, Lori’s second entry for today, is its play on words with typical poetic images playing against type. First, let’s consider the title: it is two words, either two nouns or a noun and a verb. As two nouns, truth and falsehood are placed side by side for contrast, for oxymoronic effect; as a noun and a verb, the subject is either at rest, allowing falsehoods to flourish, or speaking falsehoods. This conundrum opens the imagery to follow: “a bleak sky” portends thunder, but does not deliver (truth lies, get it?) and is empty of rain, another lie told by the ominous heavens (note that clouds are never mentioned; the word “bleak” has its work cut out for it). The segue into figurative terms (peace, honest, future, past, present) leads to a birth without conception (the noun-noun meaning, the contradictory clash); here the metaphor becomes subtle. If truth lies, then there can be birth without conception. Note the proximity of “unbroken flow of water” (water breaking prior to birth), spilling from the mountain (the pregnancy mound) and “head over heels” (the inverted birth of the baby who is removed from womb heels over head), which continues the contradictions and reaches the Noun-Verb meaning of the title “Where truth lies in a closed mind” (a mind not open to the possibility of miracles because they are impossible). But once we accept the miracle of life, we then feel the “rain” that was absent at the beginning of the poem. Men are always a bit queasy about births, beautiful though they may be, and “truth lies” captures the literal spirit of new life while showing us its contrary figurative force. John Keats said, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” Lori says it pretty good herself.


We turn to A.D. Blacet.


Andrew D. Blacet


Biography:

Andrew D. Blacet lives with his family in San Jose, California, where he is now gainfully employed in the Health Care field, having managed to survive the major shakeouts of economic boom-and-bust that have so far defined the new century in America. In his spare time Andrew continues to produce a substantial output of poetry and stories of the surreal, the strange and the grotesque, and is currently working on a novel of ecological horror. Over the years he has worked patiently to refine his skills and find his voice among the echoes of a fractured and increasingly divided and irrational world. He is apt to believe skepticism is a virtue, and pessimism a positive driving force. Don’t ask him about unicorns.


Poems:



THE MOON BECAME HER
by
A.D. Blacet

The sky rained perpetually –
Dust and meteors and wasting rays
And what little ice there was
Cringed on the shores of emptied seas;
Moon pressed her belly to a wine glass,
Somersaulted to singing wolves, dancing bats
And a man in a padded cell.
Moon resurfaced in blue-eyed daylight
But Sun ignored her;
Moon grimaced, made a show of teeth.
Sun yawned in the east.
Moon found a thinning of clouds and beamed
Bright as the canvas behind watercolor
And Sun painted over the sky.
Moon pressed her belly against the glass
And cried.





THE OCCUPANT OF THE DITCH
by
A.D. Blacet

He followed his bliss to a ditch
At the edge of a blighted cornfield
Where the only sound was slow dying;
A lone cicada flickered in and out
Of insect prayer and suffering
For the sky was a glass jar
Over everything, trapping life.
The air panted and pawed the withered rows;
Fibrous leaves trembled nerveless terrors;
The air stuck its tongue down the throat
Of something dead, licked the insides out
And shared its morsel in the mouth
Of the man outside, looking in,
Searching the cornstalks,
The decapitated sunflowers,
The brown skeletons in rags,
Impaled and crucified;
A small bird or a lizard hopped lightly on a leaf.
A fallen stalk cracked like rotted bamboo.
There was something else in there –
A doe or a child, he did not distinguish –
It swayed in the stipple, a tender shoot
Risen from the funeral mound,
A pulse in the blackened corn
The creature slunk away
From the ditch and its current occupant
And the man followed his bliss.



Critique:

“The Moon Became Her” uses the literary device, personification to pull the reader into its surreal world, like something out of a Tex Avery or Max Fleischer cartoon from the 1930s or 40s. Ice cringes, the moon has a belly, grimaces and shows its teeth, ultimately crying, the sun ignores and yawns. In the toons, the intent was to meld an unreal world with a real one; Tex had his characters chasing each other till they actually run off the screen and into the audience; Max mixed himself into a Betty Boop reel where he draws Betty till she becomes real. Blacet is not selling humor to his readers; his surrealism has a creepy edge with “the man in the padded cell” sitting in the middle of the poem. This is not metaphor or anthropomorphism; it is a man in the middle of a sun and a moon acting human. With his use of surrealism, Blacet traverses the worlds of the inner life of a “crazy” man with the poetic life of personified spheres. It is a fun conceit on the surface, but it creeps up on the reader when you realize the sun and the moon have got a thing going on, which is probably representative of the reality that drove our padded friend insane. The poem is at once playful and scary. Well done.

“The Occupant of the Ditch” uses traditional poetic devices to attract the reader at a subconscious level. On the surface, there is a poem telling a symbolic tale, while underneath the words, we find assonance, consonance, alliteration, and internal rhyme schemes working subliminally on the reader. This is a lost art in today’s poetry, where images alone construct the major themes. Let’s take a look at a few examples of surface/subliminal pairings. Blacet uses assonance in the first line: “He followed his bliss to a ditch.” On the surface, the narrative tells of someone who sought pleasure and found pain; subliminally, the short “i” sound echoes in “his”, “bliss”, and “ditch”. It is an echo that is inescapable to the reader’s ear: ih-ih-ih. Bliss and “blighted” are alliteratively aligned, and “cornfield” adds another “ih” sound, carrying the reader along with a poetic rhythm matching the fallen person story. “Only” and “slow” match the long vowel sound of “oh”, while “dying” echoes the long vowel sound of “ii” first heard in “blighted”. There is a consistency to this pattern, matching the traditional metaphors and his clever use of personification (as seen in his earlier poem). Consider this verse:

The air stuck its tongue down the throat
Of something dead, licked the insides out
And shared its morsel in the mouth
Of the man outside, looking in,
Searching the cornstalks,
The decapitated sunflowers,
The brown skeletons in rags,
Impaled and crucified;

Follow the subliminal use of poetry: tongue, throat (alliteration), something, licked, insides (assonance), out, mouth, outside, sunflowers, brown (assonance), morsel, mouth (alliteration) something, searching (consonance). It’s beautifully constructed. Blacet plays with the words as much as he plays with the conceits and images. His metaphors elicit grotesqueness in commonalities (decapitated sunflowers). This is the work of a poet just finding his poetic legs. I look forward to more works by A.D Blacet.



We now turn to Jennifer Litt.


Jennifer Litt


Biography:

Jennifer Litt teaches writing at Saint John Fisher College in Rochester, New York, and is the sole proprietor of Jennifer Litt Writing Services (www.jenniferlitt.com). Jennifer’s poetry has appeared in several anthologies and journals, including Jet Fuel Review, Lake Affect, LUMINA, Mixed Fruit, and nycBigCityLit. She lives with her cat Phantom on a quiet, tree-lined boulevard in the heart of Rochester.

www.mixedfruitmagazine.com/issues-3/contents-2/

www.jetfuelreview.com/previous-issues/jet-fuel-review-fall-2011/poetry/

www.bigcitylit.com/fall2012/poetry/poetry.php?page=index


Poems:

Astral Projections

Dandelion seeds cling to the sun porch screen,
float across my retina after unlacquered sleep.
Beside my futon, bent spines of The Teachings of
Don Juan and Be Here Now, paperbacks for
hippies from the sixties and seventies.

I’m back in your pad above the garage,
silvery exposed Fiberglas, a psychedelic
backdrop for Stratocaster, Martin, fuzz box pedal
décor. While the turntable spins Ripple, I discard
my clothes beside your mattress on the floor,
lie nude, low lit by moon stream and stars, waiting.

I cling to nothing, so I will have nothing to defend.
After February’s ice storm, a hard sun
refracts prisms through the wind chimes of trees.
We are tripping and swear we can see through
our hands. A palm reader discovered my broken
love line, before I recognized my restlessness with
intimacy. In March I betray you with a friend,
but you’ve already seen through me.

Why didn’t I pick the path of heart?
It’s best to erase all personal history.


My Father Prepaid the Neptune Society

for his cremation and a green burial at sea.
He battles the current in his lungs,
a product of his failing pump.
In 1943, his destroyer moved past ports
where Italian divers attached mines
to the hulls of ships on moonless nights.
Torpedoes heading toward them veered,
surfaced as a pod of dolphins. My father
thanked the sea gods. It felt like a reprieve.
His pleural cavern floods with a fiery debris,
which he drains through a tunneled
catheter several times a week.
Oh, Portunus, turn your dolphin toward this port,
come to this sailor’s aid, and relieve him of distress.
Provide him with safe harbor, for what I believe is this—
my father is turning into some type of fish.
After his journey through the fire,
he’ll burn into a moray eel, move into a coral reef.



Critique:

“Astral Projection” is a personal account of betrayal behind the décor of poetry. Immediately the reader should note the internal rhymes and assonance (the long “e” sound: seeds, screen, sleep, with echoes throughout the first stanza. It is part memory and part reverie, a happy time, but with foreboding words (“I cling to nothing, so I will have nothing to defend”). Our narrator is not totally invested emotionally, though she lies nude, invested physically. The following line is pure poetry; yes, this is the language of the poet: “A palm reader discovered my broken love line…” What started as a cute observation of two lovers high on LSD or mushrooms (“We are tripping and swear we can see through our hands”) becomes a metaphor for guilt, for he sees through her; he knows he has been betrayed. There is some regret, but it is too little, too late. Litt captures a moment of perfect romance and corrupts it with betrayal, symbolized by the transparency of a feigned “intimacy”. This may or not be Litt herself in the work, but that is unimportant. What is important is that it is now us.

“My Father Prepaid the Neptune Society” presents water as life and fire as death, and where both meet, both are extinguished, water evaporates, fire snuffed. The “Neptune Society” performs burials at sea by cremation. The narrator in the poem describes the “Father’s” own dying body as a vessel of the sea (“current”) and transitions to a memory of the sea when the paternal parent battled during World War II on the sea just as he now battles with the failing of his own body. He survived torpedoes, only to bear the burden of a life with a catheter (an ironic “reprieve” by the sea). The narrator pleas with the god of the sea to rescue her father and with the cremation (the symbol of “fire” here) allow her father to become one with the sea, “some kind of fish”, perhaps a “moray eel”. Litt has taken another personal moment and has transformed it into the language of poetry. She invests much of herself in her works, but there is much going on here in her writing, for the reader, by use of her poetry, identifies with her, and experiences a detached empathy, or a subjective correlative. And for this day and age, it is nice to see the objective correlative modernized by such personal poetry.



We now turn to Lawrence Hammond.


Lawrence Hammond


Biography:
Lawrence Hammond was the front man of the ground-breaking, dark and edgy San Francisco/Berkeley late-sixties band Mad River before he returned to his country and bluegrass roots. His "Coyote's Dream" album featured timeless tracks that inspired country legends the Judd's and others. After two decades of silence, his recently rediscovered lost album, "Presumed Lost" is now available from Shagrat records.


Poems:

Eastern Light
By Mad River
Lyrics and Music by Lawrence Hammond

Where does the sun come from
Where does it go
Pretty mama
I think you must know
You come in the morning
You're gone at night
Pretty babe
I think you're the eastern light
What is this magic
you bring at night
child you leave
I feel so fine
There's nothing less
you could do for me
Babe you speak
like a summer tree

I'll wait for you
in the woods at dawn
watch you walk away
when the sun goes down
I ask you if
you want to spend the night
You say you wanna catch
The 8:30 flight
Listen to me baby
I want to marry you
No one, No one else
understands a thing I do
I'm hoping you
decide to stay
It's so hard
loving you this way

Stood on my doorstep
after you'd gone
Heart full of feather
and pieces of bone
Went to the river
hoping you'd come
Your eyes full of lightning
and your hair all undone
Oh, listen to me baby
I want to marry you
No one else
understands a thing I do
I'm hoping you
decide to stay
It's so hard
loving you this way
This way, This way.


Amphetamine Gazelle
By Mad River
Lyrics and Music by Lawrence Hammond

You kwow, iii, mmma, cuz i-i-i-im really strung out man you know man, cu-cu-uz, cuz man you know

You know the gravel stones, accepting all the light
Seems to have dripped, into a holy sweating scene
no place to be, just when you're just trying to
see the roach your feet have slipped
You know that you belong on roads so long
but then it must be wrong to feel the belly
of a horse above you but of course it loves you
so you just don't force the issue even though
you're riding underground and upside-down
and all alone, just wait a minute
I'm too stoned to understand or to catch on
to everything that's going on, YEAH

Why'd you put spiders on my mind
to build methedrine webs on my time
Ain't no spider dollars to pay them off
Girl I guess you know you're being robbed
Want to call the doctor but I don't have a dime

I just can't breathe babe can't you tell
your mind and mine don't meet their parallel
sit and pick the locust from your eye
with the ghost the curtains makes me cry
got me jumping like an amphetamine gazelle
I say I say

Help me from golden gates of hell
no madmen's here to break the spell
ever since you wiped out in my face
can't eat here sitting at my table place
Slippery is a-cooking up a mental gel
but I'm a gazelle
but I'm a gazelle
amphetamine gazelle.



Critique:

Eastern Light represents the morning when the narrator’s lover arrives; she leaves at night. In a religious sense, (think Easter), this light is the resurrection of Christ, but within the poem, it is the mystery of a love that exists only during the daylight. The narrator becomes more and more isolated as his lover meets him in lonely places like the “woods at dawn”. She always is prompt to leave to catch the 8:30 p.m. flight. He imagines that one day she will stay and they will get married, but we sense his desperation and yearning as he is coming to realize that the “magic” she used to bring with her visits are adding up to tragedy. But still he doesn't let go and surrenders to his predicament, admitting, “It’s so hard loving you this way, this way.” Hammond captures the isolation of a one-sided love affair with the right combination of repetition and hope, even as the narrator faith wanes.

Amphetamine Gazelle is a poem about seeing life through the eyes of a drug addict. The imagery is not meant to be taken literally. It is neither a warning against drug abuse nor is it an invitation to a beautiful life of drug use. It is a straight-up look at a man who is high. The gibberish that opens the poem comes from the initial rush of an amphetamine buzz. He even admits, “I'm too stoned to understand or to catch on to everything that's going on, YEAH.” Then the hallucinations start: “Why'd you put spiders on my mind/to build methedrine webs on my time/Ain't no spider dollars to pay them off.” Note that the stanzas are all uneven, as if the narrator can’t make up his mind how to tell his experience, or tells it differently as the drug takes him up and down. Hammond here is describing the poetry of drugs, capturing the spirit of the intent without the realism of the experience. It’s a nice poem, but a poor deterrent.



Lastly, we turn to our special guest, Alma E. Cervantes.



Alma E. Cervantes


Biography:

Poet, professor, film-maker, traveler, Alma E. Cervantes has written about and for the Latina in the universal Barrio. Her work, In Our Hands: An AIDS Story for All Latinas (1996), is a must read for every person of all races. Her poems also appear in Chicana Creativity and Criticism: New Frontiers in American Literature, edited by María Herrera-Sobek, Helena María Viramontes, which can be purchased by clicking here. In Our Hands is currently out of print. 




Poem:


Piquetitos of Love                                             Little Stabbings of Love
By Alma E. Cervantes                                      by Alma E. Cervantes

Unos cuantos piquetitos                                    A few small stabbings
solo unas golpeaditas                                        merely a few beatings
y a veces unas gotitas                                        and sometimes a few drops
de sangre;                                                         of blood;                     
resultados de tanto ser querida.                         resulting from being so loved.

Lo hizo porque me ama,                                   He did it because he loves me,
he did it because he loves me…                        he did it because he loves me…

mientras bano su hijo                                        while I bathe his son
un golpe en la vagina,                                        an assault on the vagina,                                          
expression de valor?                                         expression of valor?
de poder?                                                         of power?

El Doctor responde:                                          The Doctor responds:
“sola una golpeadita                                          “merely a little assault
senora, vuelve con                                            madam, return with
tu esposo.”                                                       your husband.”

The edge of your Love                                      The edge of your Love
against my throat                                               against my throat
slides from side to side;                                     slides from side to side;
a meticulous motioning                                      a meticulous motioning
of your ternuda.                                                of your tenderness.

Clenched fist yearning                                       Clenched fist yearning
my soft spoken lips,                                          my soft spoken lips,

broken arms that                                               broken arms that
refused to embrace,                                          refused to embrace,
bruised eyes                                                     bruised eyes
that searched                                                    that searched
an escape.                                                        an escape.

I pray and I plead                                             I pray and I plead
one day you will                                                one day you will
fall                                                                    fall
out of love                                                        out of love
for me.                                                             for me.

Until that day                                                    Until that day
here I am waiting                                              here I am waiting
for your                                                            for your

piquetitos,                                                         stabbings,
golpeaditas,                                                      beatings,
and the blood                                                   and the blood
that streams from                                              that streams from
the wounds of your loving.                                 the wounds of your loving.
                                                                       (Translated by Anthony Servante)


Critique:

Alma E. Cervantes tells a story in poem form. Her narrator is a victim of spousal abuse. She has been stabbed, her throat cut, her body beaten. The Doctor (note the capitalization of Doctor, denoting a sarcastic view of a learned man) tells our poor narrator that the stabbings (often translated as “nips”) are not worth treating and sends her back to her husband. Love here is a cage, a prison where she is trapped; it is also obvious that this is a small town or village where the man is always right (What did you do to make him so angry?). Her only hope of escape is that her spouse will fall out of love with her; then, perhaps, she might move on. But that is not likely given the opening and closing of the poem, which serve as bars on her prison. The beatings and stabbings are part of the marriage. She has surrendered to the cage of her love, a common predicament for many Latina women who still follow the Machismo culture of Mexico.



Unos Cuantos Piquetitos by Frida Kahlo




For those who recognize the title of the poem, it is taken from a painting by Frida Kahlo, famed Mexican artist, who was married to Diego Rivera, the beater and stabber of the poem. I feel that I am staying with the rules of my axiom, to stay within the confines of the poem for meaning, since the title is Frida’s words. What Alma does with the words of the famed Latina artist is to universalize the spousal abuse of one woman to all women. There are no answers, no solutions here. We are meant to feel the suffocating claustrophobia of this matrimony. Once cornered by the poem, then one can reflect on the matter and open discussion for possible solutions. But one must first face the problem, and that’s what Alma E. Cervantes does: Put you right there, a few piquetitos at a time.
*****

Thank you, readers and poets, for joining us here today. I welcome comments and submissions. Until next we meet, keep the ink to the paper and keep your eyes on the page.

2 comments:

  1. Excellent and thoughtful perspectives, Anthony! Thank you for including my poems. What an amazing combination of energy and talent. I loved the other works! Spectacular article!! :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. At first I was nervous about having my poetry critiqued, but I think you did a great job. Thanks for featuring my poems. You have a diamond sharp mind.

    ReplyDelete