For a long time, I’ve enjoyed Ezra Pound as a poet. His poem “In a Station of the Metro” both fascinated and conflicted me when I first read it in high school. Being told to copy his style in a poem of my own as an assignment made me realize that it is far easier to ramble on about something than to capture a feeling in a concise image. So in respect of his quality imagist poem, and because his Cantos require more footnotes than T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” I’ll be taking a look at “In a Station of the Metro” and the poem “Solstice” by James Scott Smith.
“In a Station of the Metro”
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
I decided to compare these two poems because they are different, drastically so. Poud has two lines, simple and concrete. A quick image. On the other hand, Smith’s poem is long, drawing out the moment longer and longer, feeding the reader more and more images until it is almost overwhelming. Where Pound gets away without a single use of a verb, Smith makes a point to use verbals like declining, descending, and becoming. Smith is focused on the action, whereas Pound is focused on painting a picture of a single moment. But I love both of these poems, and they both make me feel something. Despite the differences in style and focus, both poems create in the reader an understanding of an experience.
Pound gives us a flash of experience from a Metro station, while Smith gives us a theological idea from the feeling of being out on a cold night in winter. Both experiences are different and portrayed in vastly different ways, but both also leave the reader with a more nuanced understanding of the experience. It is in the metaphor, the idea of petals on a wet tree, that the reader sees the Metro station. And likewise it is in the metaphors of night biting the ear and rasping the cheek. These two examples of metaphor show how despite stylistic choices, the use of metaphor can always express a more full expression of experience.
I’ve been sick. Also it snowed. Life gets crazy. So this week I’ve got a two for one special!
First, I’ll be taking a look at Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s “The Haunted Oak” and this lovely spoken word poem by two teenage girls. (If the video had proper citation, I would love to give credit where credit is due to these two talented young women.)
Both of these poems deal with some serious issues of racism and prejudice, which is why I wanted to compare them. Dunbar uses the voice of a personified old oak used to lynch a black man to bring to light the crimes committed in the name of racism. The narrative voice switches in the first and last stanzas, from a man first questioning and then realizing the horror and injustice that happened at the tree. The somewhat confusing switch in narrative voice reminds me in part of the two young women switching off the duty of speaking their poem, playing off the other for emphasis as much as for meaning. Both poems have two speakers. In Dunbar’s, the speakers are more difficult to identify, while the poem dealing with being Jewish and Muslim in America today makes sure the listener is fully aware of the change in speakers. For the very change brings weight to their words.
For today’s second comparison, I’m dealing with Gertrude Stein’s “Patriarchal Poetry” (Click here to watch some students recite part of the poem) and the following spoken word poem that I will henceforth call “Dear Mr. Anonymous.”
To start with, I’ll go ahead and say that good feminist poetry is one of my favorite things to stumble upon. So I thought I would love Patriarchal Poetry. I thought wrong. Stein’s repetition and total refusal to recognize regular conventions is poetry is off-putting and rough. But Stein’s use of repetition and inversion of traditional standards leaves the reader uncomfortable. And perhaps that is important. We are not meant to read Stein’s poem and get away with a casual enjoyment. We are supposed to think, to question, and to be brought outside of our comfort zones. This mirrors the effect that “Dear Mr. Anonymous” has upon a listener who is not from a background of marginalization. The speakers challenge the way of life and perceived difficulties of those with privilege so as to discomfort the listeners. They use different methods than Stein, thankfully. Where Stein refuses to match a standard, these two poets fit well into the genre of spoken word and use it to their advantage. I found it interesting that in a genre of poetry generally thought to make use of rhyme, rhyme is scares in “DMA” whereas Stein’s unconventional use of words that both rhyme and sound similar to confuse and disorient the reader.
All four of these poems struck me hard this week. Stein and Dunbar wrote in a context of dealing with marginalization at a cultural level. These two spoken word poems bring to light today how issues of marginalization still run rampant in American culture. Perhaps the encouragement is this: Where there is injustice and oppression, there will always be poets fighting back.
I first read Robert Frost in Elementary school, in a creative writing class that focused on poetry. We read his “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Then in Middle school, while reading The Outsiders I was introduced to “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” Somewhere along the road, I was introduced to the well known “The Road Not Taken.” My boyfriend likes to recite “Fire and Ice” to me whenever Frost comes up in conversation (which is more likely than you would think, but put two English majors together, and what do you expect?). I mention all of this because I’ve practically grown up learning to read Frost. And yet even when I think I know something about a poet, I realize I still have a lot to learn.
I was not prepared for the dark side of Frost, the side my teachers all seemed to keep tucked gently away in a corner where no one would ever discover him. During one of my readings of “The Witch of Coos” I had to physically put down my poetry book and stop reading simply because I was so terrified. This week, I’ll be taking a look at this poem and a poem by North Carolina Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti: “The City Jail.”
Both of these poems make use of a speaker on the receiving end of some sort of supernatural tale. Frost has a visitor listening to a mother and son recount the tale of an ambulatory skeleton. Bathanti’s speaker is a young boy learning simple moralism through the reference to the shape in the window of the city jail. Both Frost and Bathanti reject simple moral lessons, though. Instead Frost paints a chilling picture of a potentially mad woman haunted by the past. Bathanti likewise rejects the idea of the family myth of the man in the window and instead creates for the speaker a rarity in which morals are not simple, but necessary to avoid the terrifying fate of the specter that haunts him even into adulthood.
Neither poem leaves the reader feeling safe or at ease by the end. Frost leaves the reader wondering if any of the events with the skeleton actually happened, and wondering at the character of the Mother. Bathanti leaves the reader without ever addressing the issue that the speaker actually does see the man in the window, a make believe character of the speaker’s parents invention.
I still love Frost. “Birches” is one of my favorite poems. But now that I know that Frost is much more than my teachers ever let on, I think I love him all the more.