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My Psychic: Poems by James Kimbrell
My Psychic: Poems

poetry12, December 9, 2006

POETRY READING FROM MY PSYCHIC AND OTHER WORKS

The reader was poet James Kimbrell, a UVA graduate who came back to give a reading in the bookstore. At 8 PM, the usual buzz of the bookstore was absent, and it was empty but for the reader and his audience, creating a nice setting for a poetry reading.
Kimbrell?s poetry was well crafted, aesthetically pleasing, and emotionally diverse. The subjects of his poems ranged from mundane and comical matters, such as haircuts, to very powerful and tragic matters, like the death of his mother. His selection of poems to read was effective in that there wasn?t too much on either end of the spectrum; there was good variation between more serious and less serious poems, which helped the flow of the reading.
Kimbrell started by reading the first poem he ever workshopped in grad school. I found that I really connected with this because I am at the same point in my life and writing career that he was when he wrote the poem, so it made for an interesting point of comparison. The poem had great natural imagery with vivid references to a variety of plants and animals. The imagery of the poem was very accessible and illustrated with effective language, and even without having the poem in front of me to look at, I was able to visualize the images very easily.
The 4th poem he read was about his time in Asia. The line from this poem that really struck me was, ?Crickets that trailed me all the way from Virginia?? This was a very powerful way to relate the theme of universality while giving insight into the physical distance he had traveled. It made me think of how some things are the same everywhere, no matter how different or far away they may seem. This was a relatively simple line, but had a profound effect on me.
The 6th poem he read was about his experiences as a teacher. He introduced the poem by saying that people generally didn?t encourage him to write about teaching, but as this was his experience, he felt he should write about it. I found this to be an honest approach to writing poetry; he wrote about what he knew, even if others might perceive it as boring, or nothing worth writing about. The poem itself was segmented into different numbered sections. This style reminded me of many of Adrienne Rich?s poems. Each segment of the poem focused on a different aspect of teaching, or described the experience from a different vantage point. Some sections laid out the scene quite literally, while other sections explored his thoughts and emotions. Thus, the poem was a very well rounded account of the experience. There was a sense of honesty and truth that came through in the poem that could only come from someone who had experienced what he was writing about first hand.
His poem ?Wings,? which was about a haircut was a bit of comic relief, but still a very well crafted poem. Though the poem was of the most mundane subject matter, he integrated many historical and mythological references, such as, ?Rosy fingered dawn,? (from the Odyssey), Moses and the parting of the Red Sea, and the story of Icarus. I found this to be a very creative way of writing about something dull, and I was amused by the mixture of rich historical symbolism and the description of the haircut.
Apart from the poems themselves, Kimbrell gave some insight into his life and his past, mostly through his poem introductions. I found this to be very helpful in understanding where the poems where coming from. Many of his introductions were effective in giving a context for the poem and helped my comprehension of his messages. This was especially helpful in a setting where I could only hear the poem once and didn?t have the chance to see it on paper. It allowed me to focus on the smaller details of the poem instead of constantly struggling to figure out what was going on.
Overall, this was an enjoyable reading to attend. I felt like I had some degree of connection with Kimbrell both on a personal level and through his poetry. His reading was clear, and his poetry was thought provoking and inspiring.
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The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn
The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million

poetry12, December 9, 2006

POETRY READING FROM THE LOST

Daniel Mendalstam?s reading from his book, ?The Lost? was an interesting event. Beyond the reading itself, there was much to be learned from the experience. To me, this reading had three main components: Daniel?s introduction of the book, the reading, and the Q&A. Each of these was a different way of experiencing Daniels work, but each was very helpful in fully comprehending his message.
Before Daniel began the reading, he gave a significant introduction to his book it the material it discussed. He described it as being the chronicle of his search to discover the fate of his mother?s relatives during the Holocaust. This seemed to be the surface level of the book, but on a deeper level he described it as being the story of ?how one becomes interested in one?s family and gets in touch with their own history.? Hearing this helped me to understand what Daniel felt was important about it own search and what it really meant to him, and also what he was trying to relate to other people. His comments in the introduction outlined themes and ideas that would be prevalent in the reading itself, and I found this information very helpful in terms of interpreting the actual reading. Having a preconceived notion of the themes he was writing about helped me to concentrate on how he was achieving this, rather than simply what he was trying to say.
There were several things the struck me about the reading itself. The writing had a strong sense of the stream of consciousness style, as if his writing was just thoughts pouring out of his mind. This was an effective way to illustrate many of the scenes he read, and forced me as a listener to pay very close attention so as not to miss any pivotal details. He was very descriptive in narrating scenes such as family gatherings, and being forced to kiss old people, occurrences that are common and easy to relate to. This was important for creating visual representations of the scenes, which was critical for comprehension and keeping track of the story, given that I didn?t have the pages in front of me. Another thing that struck me was his use of different accents in his reading. When he read a quote of his grandfather?s or some other relative, he would skillfully reproduce to accent with which the statement was originally made. I found that this really helped in bringing the characters to life, in a way that I could not have achieved reading the book on my own. I also noticed his use of repetition of certain key phrases, such as, ?unknown and unknowable?, and ?old Jewish people who cried at the sight of my face.? He would introduce the phrase, and then it would come up again in the reading, often with a great deal of space in between. These repeated phrases helped to tie the story together and draw strong connection between seemingly distant aspects of the story.
When the reading was finished, Daniel opened the floor to questions. This segment of the reading allowed me to understand more about Daniel himself, and also how others in the audience had reacted to the reading. I found it interesting that two of the aspects of Daniel?s reading that struck me, the stream of consciousness style, and the phrase repetition, had also been noticed by other audience members, enough so that they asked questions about these specific components. In both cases, Daniel noted that his use of these devices in his writing was conscious, and he explained the reasons for his use of each. Hearing his explanation for his choices gave me an even greater appreciation for these stylistic components, which even initially, had been very powerful to me. There were also questions about how Daniel?s literary background and training in the classics had affected his writing. Hearing his answers to these questions were very helpful in further understanding Daniel?s style and grasping his use of forms, such as the Greek practice of chronological storytelling interwoven with loops of the past to tell the complete story. It was Daniel?s opinion that being well read in the classics allowed him to have good perspective on the nature of the Holocaust and helped him in deciding how to deal with it in his writing. Hearing Daniel?s opinions on these matters gave me a deeper understanding of were his writing was coming from and for me, added a great deal of validity to his message.
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Repair: Poems by C K Williams
Repair: Poems

poetry12, December 9, 2006

C.K. Williams book Repair was full of poems of both intriguing style and content. The poems ranged from relaxing, to challenging, to tragic and even amusing. Williams? style was distinctly different from other poets we?ve read this year, and the messages in his poems shared some similarities with the poems of Sam Taylor and Adrienne Rich, but also provided some contrast. While I didn?t feel that there were really any main themes running through all the poems in the book, this body of work was an interesting read and a look at a different type of poetry.
One thing that was interesting about this book was the titles Williams chose for his poems. Almost all of the titles were one word, and usually very simple. For me, this had a interesting effect on the way I read the poem. Titles such as ?House,? or ?King,? or ?Ice? gave a basic context for the poem, but went no further. I found myself reading the poems, trying to connect their content to the title. I found that this approach to reading the poems was effective in focusing my attention to what Williams was trying to get across with the poems, and it was a good way of reading them. With some of the other poetry we have read, I have found the titles confusing and at times too narrowly focused, therefore not having the same effect. Williams? titles in this book narrowed my thinking enough to clarify my thinking going into a poem, but they left the poems open enough for interpretation and did not try to make obscure references that took away from comprehension. The poem ?House? was a good example of this. Reading the title directed my mindset as I read the poem, and it helped to create strong images as I read lines like, ?Down to the scabrous plaster, down to the lining bricks with mortar squashed joints.? The poem, ?Naked? also had an interesting relationship to its title. There were parts of the poem in which the content?s relation to the title was fairly obvious, like, ?So, naked under the low lintel, an unaffrightening darkness before you.? It also made me think of how the poem as a whole, and less obvious segments, could relate to the title. It helped in thinking about all aspects of the poem and looking deeper into the meaning, which was the case with many of the poems in the book.
One poem that really caught my attention was ?King.? One thing I noticed about the poem was that it was written in more of a prose-like language than most of the other poems. This poem was almost a story, like a narrative description of an event or a memory. In the case of this poem, the event was very powerful and in itself very poetic, which is perhaps a reason Williams felt the language used to describe didn?t need to be especially poetic. Also, this poem, unlike the rest, was segmented, containing five sections. The five sections, united under the title of ?King,? explored different aspects and viewpoints of racial tension. It was fitting that King, in reference to Martin Luther King, Jr. was the title that unified the segments, as it reflected the unifying effect Martin Luther King had during the civil rights movement and his stature at the center of controversy. The first section set the stage for the poem, describing a memory of a black man walking to MLK?s memorial service and being impeded by the threat of white police officers. The poem then goes on in section 2 to describe the racial injustice that was prevalent at the time by discussing specific instances, such as, ?you?d be raped, gang-raped, and no one would dare say a thing.? Section 3 then returns to the memory and explores the unspoken emotional tensions that would have occurred during an encounter between the black man walking to the service and the white police, the narrative switching between the whites? thoughts and emotions, and those of the black man. A particularly powerful line in this sequence was,
sready to break their fists on you, maim or kill you so that you?d understand:
that their world would prevail, that authority, power, and absolute physical coercion
with no ethical dimension whatsoever must and will precede all and resolve all
This is an evocative description of the emotions that would have transpired in the situation being discussed. It encompassed the viewpoint of the white racists and shed light on how these views manifested themselves during the civil rights movement. Section 4 looks at how the black man would have reacted to the intimidation, and raises questions about motives and consequences. It closes with a powerful statement in italics about how whites could never truly understand the oppression that blacks felt, and that it was insulting when they tried. Finally, section 5 describes the scene at the memorial service and comments on the absence of tension there, even though both whites and blacks were present, which provided a stark contrast to previous section in which the tension was very evident. ?If there were tensions, they were constrained by our shared grief; we held hands.? This was a great image and helped describe both the sadness and the peace of the moment. I read in a C.K. Williams interview that he has been writing this poem for thirty years, struggling with how to deal with the subject. It is interesting to see which details survived in the poem over time and how the message of the poem may have been shaped by the passage of time. One way it definitely did affect the poem was how it was set in the past; in memory. One line in section 5 seemed to make this explicit, ?A black man, a white man, three decades of history, of remembering and forgetting.? Thinking of the poem in this sense had a deepening effect on my reading of it. I thought the structure and the writing style were very effective in achieving Williams? intent for the poem.
Another poem in which I thought the formatting style was effective was ?Owen: Seven Days.? In this poem, Williams? thoughts are arranged into short, three line segments. Also, in contrast to most of the lineation in the book, the lines were very short. This formatting seemed to reflect the subject of the poem, which explored the thoughts of and surrounding a newborn. The short stanzas were an excellent way to reflect the idea of simplicity and conciseness. This worked especially because of the contrast to Williams? usual formatting. This poem was a distinct deviation from the others in terms of format, which begged attention and raised questions about its intent. In this way, Williams was able to create a rich texture in the poem, simply by the arrangement of the words, apart from the words themselves. I found this to be a particularly effective tool and one that added a great deal to the poem, however, I also noted that without the context of the other poems in the book, the formatting would not have been significant. It was interesting to consider how the poems interact to add to each others? meaning.
While this book didn?t seem as theme based as the previous books we?ve read, I found it to be a coherent body of work in terms of style and emotional content. Williams? style was enjoyable to read and I took a lot from it that I will try to incorporate what I perceived to be his approach to channeling his passions into his poetry into my own work.
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Body of the World by Sam Taylor
Body of the World

poetry12, December 9, 2006

In Body of the World, Sam Taylor uses his unique and expressive writing style to relate an impassioned and cohesive message to the reader. The material he covers in this book is extensive, ranging from the nature of human existence, to religion, to everyday experiences. The language he uses is both aesthetically pleasing and very proficient in articulating his thoughts. Reading the book gave insight into Taylor?s thoughtful perception of the world, and inspired me to think in a similar manner.
One theme that ran through the book was religion and the idea of God. In a book entitled Body of the World it is natural that the human search for spirituality is included in the subject matter. In many poems, Taylor mentions God or a religious figure in passing, as means to articulate a though. An example would be in ?Anonymous,? where religion is not the main focus of the poem, but there is religious language included. In other poems, such as ?John 3:16,? Taylor takes on religion directly, and examines its function and mysterious nature. The poem starts by saying, ?The perfection of God that rose Jesus out of its body ?,? thus stating the divine and all powerful nature of God. The poem, however, goes on to list imperfections in human life of which God is also a part. It describes the abuse of a girl at the hand of an uncle, and later a ?fat man lying on the couch eating chicharones, scratching his balls, chafed red from the quarry.? In this way Taylor questions the assumption the God is all good and all powerful. This is a question that is central in any religious quest, and the manner in which Taylor discusses it is visually descriptive and effective.
My favorite poem in the book was ?The Lost World.? In this poem, Taylor brings up the idea that there are things in life that are beyond words people use day to day. He describes moments and situations in which the feelings and emotions felt cannot be related in speech the way it is used now such as ?wildflowers/that orgasm in this vacant lot,? and ?two people thinking the same/thought in the same moment.?. The poem has a twinge of nostalgia, as the title indicates. ?The Lost World? implies that something once existed that has now been lost; in this case, the appreciation and language for the moments he describes. The nostalgia is furthered by the lines, ?Though any child will tell you the name of the blinking towers on the hill or the two roads crossing, no one knows the word for laughing and crying at the same time.? These lines state that children, who symbolize the future and generations to come, are fluent in the language of mundane aspects of life, but have no words for the things and ideas of greater importance. This gives the sense that as human existence presses on, more and more of what was once sacred and treasured will be lost. The poem describes many special, hyper-emotional moments, which are never spoken of because of the deficiencies in common language. Taylor addresses this in a poem, the idea that feelings and emotions can be expressed through arts like poetry; people have to be willing to try an alternate method of artistic speech, and they have to be willing to listen. It is the abstract and indescribable moments such as, ?a flash of divine mercy,? that art forms are able to express in ways that speech never could, and with this poem, Taylor is trying to express his sadness at what he feels is a lack of such expression.
The other poem that stood out to me was ?Accident.? It described a tragic event, but did so in a way that was easy to relate to emotionally, even for someone who has not actually experienced it.
?He leaned down
to her but she did not move. He was terrified then
of the silence he felt at that moment
which was not the quiet of trees or the moon

or of hot tea, but the silence of somewhere else,
of a lake being where a girl should be.?
This passage left me with a haunting emotion, even though I?ve never experienced tragedy to that extent. Just imagining what this sadness would be like left me with chills, and his vivid description of the silence instilled true fear in me. He wrote about the event simplistically, and the language was straightforward, just like the title, ?Accident,? but the manner in which he let the story unfold put a powerful emotional charge into it.
I enjoyed Taylor?s writing and really connected with the way he carefully constructed his stories. He made powerful statements which skillful use of language and narration. The book was an intriguing view into Taylor?s take on the nature of the world and it offered interesting ideas on the questions at the crux of human existence, such as the higher power of God, why we are here, and how we interact with one another.
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