Monday, January 28, 2008

Essay: Finding the Form - Kristen Ogden

This cool essay, Finding the Form, appeared at the Kenyon Review blog on Sunday, written by Kristen Ogden. She riffs on some quotes by Denise Levertov and other poets -- a meditation on the idea of form following content. I'd like to hear from other poets out there -- does the content of your poems determine the form, or do you fit the content into a form? Obviously, those of you working with formal verse will have a different take on this, but I'd still be interested in hearing your views.

Denise Levertov’s Question: Is there inherent form that the poet can discover and reveal?

This is us, in each moment at the paper, fretting over what it should be and will do in the world. We might say,

Dear Poem. I have had a synergetic moment. The rain falls from the roof and down to the ground like fringe on a flapper dress. In the spaces between each dance, leaves grow on branches down toward the ground, which is covered in rotted leaves from the days without rain. In this room, my feet are too cold, and the space heater hums. See on that postcard, the haystacks in the fields of rainbowed grass? Where, poem, should I begin? With what word or phrase–and how, then, to lay you all out onto the paper so that these not-yet-fully-formed emotions are transformed?

“Form is never more than the revelation of content.”–Levertov

Content transformed to what? This cold makes me think of winter. It rains here in winter. The people rush at the slightest sprinkle, and I am left to contemplate the cold–and this lovely hat my sister knitted for me for Christmas, which doesn’t match the scarf because she ran out of the yarn half-way through the project.

Running out of yarn half-way through.
Content is exploratory, got at through the process of
pulsing along the vein; discovering
the form that wants to
be the poem.

If we are to base form on an ‘intuition’ of order, are we discovering what it is–the poem–supposed to do and how to be in the world? Is this what is called an absence of form, or is it the finding of your authentic vision?

Constellations. Concentration on constellations can be dangerous. But what is more beautiful? What brings more mythology to light than the constellation, with its gods and goddesses, and the big spoons for holding the magic of the cosmos and ready to ladle it into soup bowls.Constellations retain their forms, but move about in the sky and are wholly dependent upon the temple from which one views each constellation. ‘Recognize what we percieve.’

So the poet stands openmouthed in the temple of life, contemplating his experience, there come to him the first words of the poem.“–Levertov

Please read the whole article then come back and share your thoughts.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Four Photos: Jonathan Moller

I am extremely honored and thrilled to present four photos by Internationally known photographer Jonathan Moller. His work has been seen in many publications, and in the book, Our Culture Is Our Resistance.

These photos are from his portfolio, Stillness.




Friday, January 18, 2008

Epistles: Poems by Mark Jarman

I've been a fan of Mark Jarman for many years. He has managed to make formal poetry fresh and modern in a way few poets have been able. A new book from him is always a time for gratitude, and this one, which explores the prose poem form, is no exception. The following review is from Bookslut.

Jason B. Jones

Epistles: Poems by Mark Jarman

Mark Jarman's new book of poems, his ninth, is a collection of prose poems modeled loosely on Paul's epistles. This is a rather remarkable challenge, for a variety of reasons: Pauline letters are addressed to specific Christian churches and communities -- indeed, their universality arises from this deeply-felt sense of community (see Badiou). But Jarman isn't really addressing a community of believers, or any other community save "the assembly of the lost."

The other challenge Jarman faces is a formal one: The prominent New Formalist has set himself the task of writing in prose poems. Not for the first time in his career, but certainly this is the most sustained exploration of the form.

Epistles faces these twin challenges about as well as can be expected. On the one hand, the work constantly threatens to devolve into a sort of collection of aphoristic essays in the mode that people call "spiritual," rather than religious. They almost have to, in order to preserve what Jarman has called their "heterodox inclusiveness." At such moments, Jarman risks -- but mercifully never succumbs to -- writing Chicken Soup for the Literate Soul. On the other hand, his ear and the precision of his language, as well as the range of human experience he can bring into focus, continually quicken one's interest in the poems.

One of my favorite moments in Epistles comes when Jarman tries to imagine eternity, which will apparently start out a little slowly:

Still, try this. Think of blank times with other people's habits, when you had to eat with strangers and strange hosts, and follow their customs and rituals at table. A glassy patience took over. Through its panels even watching was a kind of starvation, a sort of drought. The portions lay stranded on large plates. The grace was minimal but stiflingly pious. There was nothing to drink. And the time ahead filled a football stadium.

Then you discovered their peculiar passions -- genre fiction, dog racing. Suddenly you were an umbrella stand of questions. Time, almost like the drink you were denied, turned almost sexy. When you left, sated with information, and even a little drunk with a fizzy affection for the plain, stolid family of doorstops, they invited you back.

There's a charm to this image, held together lightly by charged words such as hosts and passions, by repetition and alliteration, and by Jarman's good humor. But this poem, which opens in so folksy and down-to-earth a fashion, pivots suddenly, becoming a reflection on the mutual misrecognition between the living and the dead, despite, or rather because of the universal tendency of the former to become the latter.

Read the rest.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Three Photos: John Craig



* * * * *

~ John Craig is a regular contributor to Elegant Thorn Review. These photos are from a new series of ambient art, also known, apparently, as Biomorphic art. You can always find more of John's work at Craig Photography.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Three Poems: Diana Lundell

A Plea to the Outstretched Angel

You are a bronzed prayer,
one wing, one bereaving arm.
The pose, overreaching,
uncomfortable even to the eye.
Something of you anguishes,
perhaps knows my pain.

If you’re still a working angel
and not demoted by God
(minus the wing and all),
can you soften the thorn on the rose
bringing no blood from touch?

Alright, that’s probably impossible.

But what of the odor of lilac
spinning spring breeze
the way it fills to bursting?
Can you teach my heart
how to feel this again
past my thundering sorrow?

Or perhaps, just one more hour
hold the blessed twilight
to get lost in the loveliness
of ragged shadows, dying light.

And that’s when you could send
a message beyond the grave
slipped through the thin veil
when other angels aren’t looking.

A postcard would be okay
telling me if they’re all fine and
what the weather’s like over there.

* * * * *

So Far This April

How I yearn to see the leaves
come out in spades again,
fleshy and plump with chlorophyll.

In my backyard, the soldiers are such:
1 lovely, sinewy birch budding
little clay-colored fists;
2 ruddy red maples, burgeoning;
3 dying oaks, stunted, rooted in netherland,
every so often creaking slightly
in wind to whisper, Am I still here?
4 delinquent scrubs, sloven but progressing;
and 6 buxom sugar-plum-fairy pines
holding out their flowing dresses
to block the neighbor’s view.

These gluttons wait to show off,
to dangle, seduce, tantalize,
play hide and seek with shadows,
wear their hearts on fingertips
and fill up with light.

It’s been such a long, godless winter,
all about desolation and war.
Dead everywhere, flying nimble wings.
The air thick with murder,
cold curdling blood.

But this spring you won’t be alive
to watch our little green rebellion
strike victory, despite it all.

* * * * *

Awaking Indigo

As pale indigo light
orphans shadows in my room
claimed by neither
night nor day, I wake.

Across town in the hospital
your love of fear sedated
as you labor under the oxygen mask
face calm, affirming surrender
attached to life’s umbilical cord.

For whole moments, I think of escape,
of finding things to do to avoid
the centurion hours clearly laid out
to be my day’s destiny
guarding your bedside.

All the cleaning to be done.
Or the untouched bills spilt
across table in silent complaint
could give purpose to knocking out an hour.

Someone will call if the end is here, I think,
but the end lives here now.

Instead, I go into the shower,
letting hard drops trample my skin
liquid shock-waves. It feels like life.
My body hairs rise in salute.
But it’s too much.

Tears from me but
of sound outside myself
unleash deep and raw,
a coyote vicious
ripping flesh from bone.
All at once, I am the coyote,
also the prey. I weep
until no more tears come.

At the hospital, they wait for me.
In due time, the nurse wheels in a lamp
for soft mood lighting
and a radio playing Gospel music.

We are the ghosts around your bed,
taking turns at goodbye.
You cannot respond, largely unconscious,
floating morphine’s lovely dream.

They remove the mask,
we stare you down with wait.
I suffer the naked shame
of a first-time voyeur
as if invading your privacy
is stripping away your life.

Long pulls in and out,
we humans do without thinking,
each breath, a gain, a loss.

The last came not as I envisioned
in one long, drawn-out sigh
but mere respiration held
as if you had all the time in the world,
a pebble across a pond
skipping and flying long
the wind before immersion.

Then the short final exhale,
a slight wave of air
passing over your tongue.
Without close attention,
I would have missed it.

* * * * *

~ Diana Lundell lives in Minnesota. This is her first appearance in Elegant Thorn Review. Each of these poems appeared, in a previous form, in Northography.