Thursday, July 22, 2010

Big Tent 7-23 LITTLE ELEGY

My all-time favorite poem will have to remain Dylan Thomas's FERN HILL.

But I want to share another: XJ Kennedy's LITTLE ELEGY (For a child who skipped rope).

I love this poem for its fantastic imagery. Every word means more than the word itself, and every image means something much deeper.

Remember how it felt, as a child, jumping rope until you were so tired you couldn't breathe? So, Elizabeth, this child, now lies resting, out of breath, out of turns. But this poem is an ELEGY. She is truly out of turns, and she will rest forever. Her quicksilver feet (and, really, aren't ALL of our feet quicksilver, our footing on this earth unsure, slippery?) didn't quite clear (and yes, we've ALL "missed," caught our foot on the edge of the rope as it whirred under us?) the whirring edge of night. Elizabeth was tripped by death.

And yes, earth, too, spins circles around us all. Like a jump rope. Time passes. The children grow, and mature, and age, and finally die. And eventually we will ALL "trip up." We are Elizabeth. Elizabeth is us. NO matter how lightly we skip, this turning earth will catch us!

Finally, when death himself becomes the "skipper," we pray: Lord, for Elizabeth's sake, for our sake, trip up death.

The poem is music. Imagery like this is rare. I cannot read this poem without feeling a catch in my throat,(the bell tolls for all of us). Maybe it's because I have attended the funerals of two dear friends this week and I am feeling very mortal. Orson Scott Card writes in his weekly column in today's issue of the Deseret News about poetry in general, about a specific poem he loves by Clinton Larsen, called Black Swans. I'm not going to discuss this poem, but want to note some of Card's feelings about it: "The mastery of it is also astonishing. It is like a complete course in lyric poetry contained in 13 lines. He speaks of "using words with multiple meanings in such a way as to use all the meanings at once." Most poets", he writes, "labor all their lives to be a part of the life and heart of everyone who hears or reads it."

XJ Kennedy does this, in 10 lines. Please look it up!

My poem, an old one this time. But I hoped to use words and images with multiple meanings, and like every poet, I want the poem to resonate in the heart and life of those who read it. 24 lines.


Your see-through faces have
run together like watercolor
on oatmeal pages
all my lovers buried alive

I never said goodbye
never knew how
I stored you up instead
in this cluttered attic

inside my head, in a
brown box rough with dust
and tied with barbed wire
for ribbons

one bound creature
of several shadowed hearts
and many limbs
all your vanished words

your brown eyes or blue eyes
all of you locked
like a bunch

of mad or hunchbacked uncles
hidden away
who grind their teeth
in my sleep


Anonymous said...

I felt each of your verses pull at some invisible string within me. Especially this one:

"inside my head, in a
brown box rough with dust
and tied with barbed wire
for ribbons"

This one I know.

Elizabeth C.

Anonymous said...

What a fabulous opening stanza!

Derrick said...

A beautiful, slightly haunting poem with some wonderful phrases!

brenda w said...

I'm with Elizabeth, the box tied with barbed wire wrenched something in my gut. Thank you for your lead in exploration of Kennedy's piece, and the quotes about poetry. Engaging read.

the odd inkwell said...

the title captured my attention and I couldn't help but read on. Very nice.

rob kistner said...

I share your fondness for Thomas, and I really was taken in and gripped by your piece here.

mad or hunchbacked uncles
hidden away
who grind their teeth
in my sleep

...struck me as wonderfully odd, making me think, grin and cringe a bit -- well written work here...

Image & Verse

barbara said...

you took it and made it your own.
I do like turning them into a bunch of mad or hunchbacked uncles-- like poor bertha rochester

Joyce Ellen Davis said...

Who is bertha rochester? I must google her....

Joyce Ellen Davis said...

Of course! The mad woman in the attic! Jane Eyre.... lol

Linda said...

I'm drawn to your images—especially the barbed wire. Thanks for the introduction.

Mary said...

Yes, I remember how it was jumping rope until I was so tired I couldn't breathe. My favorite verse is the second, by the way. So often it is hard to say good-bye, so we store 'them' up somehow somewhere instead. Nice work.

Tumblewords: said...

It is about the tripping up, the many tentacled connection to those, all of them. Lovely.

Jo A. T.B. said...

Oh Joyce, I so love this post mostly because I can feel every word of it! To me a lot of poetry that is written in this 20th modern century is so raw. The writing has no passion and flavor, and deep feeling. It just sits on a page and doesn't move or jump out at me, boring to speak. This is why I love you, you are a writer of passion. For me I must have things in my life move me deeply, and that makes for excellent writing. Just wrote poem for the dog cause, but mostly writing posts and correspondence for the dogs on death row! I'm the same way I never can say goodbye!

Joyce Ellen Davis said...

And THIS is why I love You, Jo, because you are a person of such passion!

Anonymous said...

You have your wish: your words, both poetry and prose, are resonating - or rather booming around in my head. Thankyou for this lovely post.

Anonymous said...

joyce, this piece is amazing.

i also loved to read your words about the poem you described. you talk about it so passionately, the affection is apparent.

twitches said...

So much great language and slant rhyme here - sorry I missed this until now! (didn't have time for Big Tent last week)

Rethabile said...

Thank you.