Friday, April 28, 2017

Like a bird on the water... #NPM17 #phenology

Spring in Minnesota is very much a roller coaster ride until, suddenly, temperatures soar into the nineties and Summer is here. We're still enjoying the ups and downs part. It brings us such miracles as black-capped chickadees that can walk on water as they try to peck through unseasonable ice covering their morning drink of water.

"I know I left some water around here someplace"
"I know I left some water around here someplace"
Photo by J. Harrington

This Spring has also brought something I've neither seen, nor heard of, in all my years of waterfowling. I've seen ducks and geese and cranes foraging in farm fields. Today is the first time I've seen trumpeter swans foraging in a field of chopped corn. Today's sightings are enjoyable enough, and unusual enough, to almost make the exceptionally cold weather worthwhile. Almost.

Spring: lambs in the meadow, swans in the corn?
Spring: lambs in the meadow, swans in the corn?
Photo by J. Harrington

As National Poetry Month winds down, suggestion 28 of way to celebrate is "Sign up for a poetry class or workshop." Here in Minnesota, one place that offers a number of quality classes and workshops is The Loft Literary Center. [Full disclosure, I've been a member, now supporting member, and it's been awhile since I've take a class there. Time to revisit that.]

Minnesota also has a League of Minnesota Poets. I've not been involved with them, and it's probably past time I rectify that omission. Other Minnesota options for classes or workshops might be found here. None of the classes or workshops I've attended have quite resembled one such as Billy Collins describes.


By Billy Collins

I might as well begin by saying how much I like the title.
It gets me right away because I’m in a workshop now
so immediately the poem has my attention,
like the Ancient Mariner grabbing me by the sleeve.

And I like the first couple of stanzas,
the way they establish this mode of self-pointing
that runs through the whole poem
and tells us that words are food thrown down
on the ground for other words to eat.
I can almost taste the tail of the snake
in its own mouth,
if you know what I mean.

But what I’m not sure about is the voice,
which sounds in places very casual, very blue jeans,
but other times seems standoffish,
professorial in the worst sense of the word
like the poem is blowing pipe smoke in my face.
But maybe that’s just what it wants to do.

What I did find engaging were the middle stanzas,
especially the fourth one.
I like the image of clouds flying like lozenges
which gives me a very clear picture.
And I really like how this drawbridge operator
just appears out of the blue
with his feet up on the iron railing
and his fishing pole jigging—I like jigging—
a hook in the slow industrial canal below.
I love slow industrial canal below. All those l’s.

Maybe it’s just me,
but the next stanza is where I start to have a problem.
I mean how can the evening bump into the stars?
And what’s an obbligato of snow?
Also, I roam the decaffeinated streets.
At that point I’m lost. I need help.

The other thing that throws me off,
and maybe this is just me,
is the way the scene keeps shifting around.
First, we’re in this big aerodrome
and the speaker is inspecting a row of dirigibles,
which makes me think this could be a dream.
Then he takes us into his garden,
the part with the dahlias and the coiling hose,
though that’s nice, the coiling hose,
but then I’m not sure where we’re supposed to be.
The rain and the mint green light,
that makes it feel outdoors, but what about this wallpaper?
Or is it a kind of indoor cemetery?
There’s something about death going on here.

In fact, I start to wonder if what we have here
is really two poems, or three, or four,
or possibly none.

But then there’s that last stanza, my favorite.
This is where the poem wins me back,
especially the lines spoken in the voice of the mouse.
I mean we’ve all seen these images in cartoons before,
but I still love the details he uses
when he’s describing where he lives.
The perfect little arch of an entrance in the baseboard,
the bed made out of a curled-back sardine can,
the spool of thread for a table.
I start thinking about how hard the mouse had to work
night after night collecting all these things
while the people in the house were fast asleep,
and that gives me a very strong feeling,
a very powerful sense of something.
But I don’t know if anyone else was feeling that.
Maybe that was just me.
Maybe that’s just the way I read it.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.