Thursday, April 5, 2018

Poetry saving America Day 5 #NationalPoetryMonth

For this, the fourth poem in Tony Hoagland's Twenty Poems That Could Save America, we have the immense benefit of Hoagland's own explanation of why he chose this poem.
Gender is such an inextricable part of our lives and our identities that we spend our lives trying to untangle its truths and mysteries. The literature of gender is vast because the struggle to understand it is a fundamental one; yet the incisive swiftness of poetry cuts to the heart of most subjects, including this one. Whereas “Topography” praises the united states of sex, the inevitable difficulties between male and female are addressed more seriously in “A Man and a Woman,” by Alan Feldman. In fierce, fast-moving, broken-off lines, the poem catalogues the passionate suspicions and doubts of each gender towards the other. Feldman’s poem opens door after door for discussion, and closes none of them:
A Man and A Woman
Between a man and a woman
The anger is greater, for each man would like to sleep
In the arms of each woman who would like to sleep
In the arms of each man, if she trusted him
Not to be schizophrenic, if he trusted her not to be
A hypochondriac, if she trusted him not to leave her
Too soon, if he trusted her not to hold him
Too long, and often women stare at the word men
As it lives in the word women, as if each woman
Had a man inside her and a woe, and has
Crying fits that last for days, not like the crying
Of a man, which lasts a few seconds, and rips the throat
Like a claw––but because the pain differs,
Much as the shape of the body, the woman takes
The suffering of the man for helplessness, the woman’s lack of it
For hardness, the man’s tenderness for deception,
The woman’s lack of acceptance, an act of contempt
Which is really fear, the man’s fear for fickleness,
Yet cars come off the bridge in rivers of light
Each holding a man and a woman.
     The difficulties and differences are immense — “Yet cars come off the bridge in rivers of light/ each holding a man and a woman.” Feldman’s poem is tough, true, and vivid enough to deserve registration in our communal anthology. It begins, artfully, with a declared but never explicitly answered question. The anger between the man and the woman is “greater” than what? Love? Greater than the other sorts of anger we feel? The way this opening grammar hangs, semantically incomplete, is one of the poem’s many charms and sophistications. The catalogue of gendered differences, clearly compiled from experience in the field, is a provocative pleasure of its own. It is not hard to imagine the difference this poem might make in helping a husband and wife to consider the reasons for tolerance.

mosaic, Cafe of the Americas building
mosaic, Cafe of the Americas building
Photo by J. Harrington

It seems to us that the last sentence in Hoagland's explication may well be a clue to many, most(?), all(?) of the poems in the "Twenty Poems."  The need for tolerance goes back at least to Plato, who  proposed to banish poetry from his ideal society. We believe there could be a case made that Christ was executed due to the intolerance of the state to his preaching about loving one's neighbor. It would be hard, if not impossible, to love those one can't tolerate. We continue to ponder the messages Terry Tempest Williams conveys in her wonderful book Finding Beauty in a Broken World. “Shards of glass can cut and wound or magnify a vision,” Terry Tempest Williams tells us. “Mosaic celebrates brokenness and the beauty of being brought together.” This suggests saving America may mean trading in our idea of serving as a melting pot for that of becoming a beautiful mosaic.

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