Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sonneteers, Rattle

Day 16 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project.

I think Dick must be reading Rattle, a literary magazine that publishes Poetry for the 21st Century, because he gave me the Winter 2009 "Tribute to the Sonnet" issue as a birthday present at a party that was also a release reading for my little chapbook Broken Sonnets. (I told you I might tell you more about that, and here we go!)

Dick is a close friend of the party host, Michael, and both are great readers of Robert Frost, a favorite poet of many. I got to hear them read Frost and talk about him at some events many years ago, and Michael read some Frost for WGLT's Poetry Radio!

This issue of Rattle also has conversations with Alice Fulton and Molly Peacock, two poets I admire and got to hear when they read in the Chicago area. I have Molly Peacock's Original Love, Take Heart, and Cornucopia, and she taught me a lot about form, since she works with very tight rhyming forms in order to handle otherwise out-of-control emotion. This is something I have been able to recommend to other poets who are working with volatile personal material, and my little poetry workshop at Babbitt's requested to learn more about formal poems in a recent session.

Alice Fulton came to town (Chicago) to read, I think, at North Park College, or Northeastern (?), and also at DePaul, when I was at DePaul (but I attended the small college reading, conflict at the other time or something, or maybe she was reading to a particular class). We got to meet her artist husband, and I have an artist husband, so we had a very nice conversation with him. So I have her books Palladium and Dance Script with Electric Ballerina. Palladium is organized in sections that begin with different definitions of the word "palladium," and I loved learning all this, as well as reading her poems. As Emily Dickinson said, "There are words to which I tip my hat when I see them sitting on a page..." and "palladium" is one of them!

Back to Rattle, which has skeletons on the cover, so we can rattle them bones, and sonnets, etc. I was delighted to find a sonnet by Ernest Hilbert in this issue. (Hilbert's recent book of sonnets is on my wishlist at Amazon!) His Rattle sonnet is called "Cover to Cover" and describes towers of books in "shoddy columns" that "slide onto the stove, under the fridge, / Into the tub," etc. (For non-poetry readers, that slash mark indicates a line break, which is also why "Into" is capitalized, as it begins a new line, though not all poets these days capitalize the first letter of every line!) So, essentially, in this poem about "the collector's passion" (in an opening quotation by Walter Benjamin), we see huge amounts of books, reminding me of my own home and my workplace!!

On the facing page is a sonnet by Carol Frith, who, with her husband, the poet Laverne Frith, is an editor of Ekphrasis, which has taken several of my poems in response to paintings! So that was a delightful surprise. Carol's poem, "Black Tights, Halter Top," looks closely at a woman who might be a prostitute, might be a runaway, waiting on a street corner "near a ragged sign that reads: / For sale." This is so evocative for me, as well as being a vivid and empathetic picture in itself. My husband once gave a ride to a streetwalker stuck out in the Chicago rain on a dreary corner, moved by her circumstance. And he has a gorgeous collage painting of a woman "On Sale," using strips of newspaper sale pages, a painting that now hangs in our bedroom, over my dresser, because I was lucky enough to receive it as a gift. (Other paintings I have loved are long gone, sold to those who admired them!)

I love these personal connections we make to poems, which are fine if we also look closely enough at the poem to see how we connect to what's really there, a sort of compare/contrast adventure. This poem looks closely at the woman, and makes me look outside myself into her situation, as well as inside to our connection as women together on this earth. And then as humans. But she's in a tough spot, on a corner there, possibly for sale, because that is a shared experience of women in history. The poem makes me love her and feel her vulnerability. It ends: "Persimmons, firm to the touch, and sweet."

So I have not told you about the party at all. That will have to wait, because now I want to tell you about Garrison Keillor, mentioned at the end of the previous entry, and his book of sonnets! 77 Love Sonnets came out this summer when I was proofreading my own little book, and I waited till the fall, when my book was safely out, to get it and read it. What a dear book, and what a fine variety of sonnets, both tight to the form, and looser, matching the subject matter. It tracks a love affair and praises the beloved in swift, sensual poems that bring us right into a fine intimacy. We care about this couple, and this man loving her so much! And there are fine delicate drawings. And there is a 12-sonnet cycle of the months!

Which reminds me!--back in Rattle there is a sonnet crown by Patricia Smith. A sonnet crown is a set of sonnets in which the next sonnet starts with the last line of the previous sonnet, and eventually circles back around to the first sonnet, creating a "crown," although poets do variations on this circling back. Smith's is called "Motown Crown" and weaves in lots of the music from her growing-up years. It's amazing!

I've read other sonnet crowns, heard some read aloud, and have written one myself, though mine breaks, the way my "broken sonnets" break...oh, someday I'll tell you more about that.

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