Here we are...

...a group of Baby Boomers of sundry religious,
political and cultural orientations, who have been
meeting at the Voorheesville Public Library since 1991
to read and discuss each other's poems.

We include old fathers and young grandmothers,
artists and musicians, and run-of-the-mill eccentrics.
Writers are welcome to stop in and stay if they like us.

Some of Us

Some of Us
Dennis Sullivan, Beverly Osborne, Tom Corrado, Edie Abrams, Art Willis, Alan Casline (all seated); Paul Amidon, Mike Burke, Tim Verhaegen, Mark O'Brien, Barbara Vink, Philomena Moriarty

Friday, January 14, 2011

Cookie Interruptus

The following was written by our scribe, who filled in for me last night and, obviously, ate my share of the cookies. It is a good post. Thanks Paul.


Nine poets. A good number to kick around any poem that dared show its face. No surprise that that’s exactly what happened.

The first sacrificial offering of the evening was “Three of Seven Exterior Plates on Gundestrup Cauldron,” which consisted of a detailed description of three parts of a silver cauldron found in a peat bog and dated to 100 B.C. Alan covered the territory as far as description was concerned, but mentioned nothing else. For that he drew fire from several fronts because the critics were looking for more. Larry pointed out the poem did not indicate the significance of the details described. Mark felt the description did not take him anywhere, and asked: “What is the poetic journey?” Ann and Tim agreed. I did too, and felt it read like prose. Alan’s intent, however, was not to take the reader anywhere, but to describe without interpreting. He succeeded in what he wanted to do. He wanted to find out how much energy the poem would raise in a critique group, and he succeeded in that too. He found out that the group had enough energy to make it clear they wanted more than he served up.

Mark’s poem “Susurrations” sent Dennis to his Spanish dictionary to see what he could find out about the title. A Spanish word quite close to Mark’s title had the same meaning: a whisper. Alan noted that the poem compared nature to nature through the use of metaphor, a quality he liked. Larry jumped on the third verse as describing something that is impossible (seeing tears on one’s own cheeks). Tim whittled the last line off three of the verses. Mark described the poem as “me talking to me,” which was of some help.

Dennis brought a ten-verse poem longer than most of his others, loaded with good images and food for thought, titled “Ten Thoughts About the Eternity of Day.” Alan commented that it was a great poem, with a lot of Dennis Sullivan in it. Tim felt it was a strong poem, and that the details that tripped him up didn’t matter. He also pointed out how the listeners benefited from having the standard second reading. I won’t include it here, but the sixth verse was considered to be the best, and it was a good one indeed. One part puzzled me, however. The lines “get rid of no, except to turn down second helpings of turkey breast and forced sex” had me wondering. Is a first helping of forced sex all right? I would have mentioned it, but I was too busy eating one of the superb chocolate cookies that Ann brought. Anyone who passed up the cookie box, you blew it. They were great.

Larry gave us “Love,” a piece characterized by his usual style of including cryptic lines that are sure-fire discussion starters. Tim tossed out the idea that the title seemed like a tack-on because the author couldn’t come up with anything else. Some lines were unclear, but different lines were unclear to different critics. Alan didn’t favor a line about a bodily function, but let’s face it, body parts and bodily functions appear in so many of Larry’s poems that we can’t reasonably expect him to give them up now. We can, I suppose, but it isn’t likely to happen. By way of commentary, Larry said he was trying to show some of the many things we think of as love.

My poem “Statue of Liberty” generated more discussion than I thought it would. Alan and Tim both thought a lot could be cut from it, as the story has been extensively written about. A poem must stand on its own, though, and cutting because the subject has been extensively written about assumes readers will know what is not stated. Older readers might, but a lot of young people are far enough removed from those who immigrated to America a century ago to not know the history us older types have had closer contact with. Mark didn’t relate to the poem because most of the Irish were already here when the Statue of Liberty went up, but that’s all right. I bagged over 12 million immigrants who came after 1888. That will have to do.

Tim’s “Fratres” had us wondering who the poem was about, and opinion was divided. Catherine had the feeling it was about Tim, not someone else, while others didn’t know and wouldn’t hazard a guess. There were a lot lines in this one I didn’t understand. Dennis noted it had “great economy of language,” and I have to agree with that. Ann, among others, felt the last stanza was confusing, and there was some discussion about it. Tim ended things by telling us it was a love poem about another person, and said he knew readers wouldn’t be able to understand a lot of the lines without more information. If it’s not for general consumption, that’s the poet’s choice. If the poet is happy, I’m happy.

Catherine rolled out “Bitter Vision,” and like the rest of the evening’s poems, it generated a good round of discussion. I had no idea what the first verse meant. Edie admitted to having no clue about what was bitter. The origin of the poem apparently has something to do with its confusing quality: it sort of “wrote itself” as the author was arranging words from a magnetic poetry kit. I had never heard of a magnetic poetry kit, and was informed that it’s an assortment of words mounted on small magnets. You move the words around on a metal surface (like a refrigerator) and see what you can come up with. Interesting concept. Catherine confided that she doesn’t know where the bitterness is either, and that even she isn’t sure what some of the lines mean. Well, if the magnetic poetry kit came up with this, maybe it can clear up parts of it too. The kit sounds like an interesting approach, kind of a spark plug for the imagination. If I find one at a yard sale I’m going to make an offer.

Except for one line, Ann’s “It Hung on the Living Room Wall” did not suffer from lack of clarity, and told an interesting family story. What hung on the wall was a picture of her father and Governor Rockefeller, and the story concerned her father’s appointment as a Deputy Commissioner in the Rockefeller administration. After Tim concluded the line “clean living” was an intentional contrast to the life of hard physical work endured by her grandparents, Ann informed us it really referred to the clean politics her father practiced after his appointment. Clear that up, and the poem is good to go.

Edie concluded the night’s poem-mauling festivities by handing out “Heeling A Dog on Your Left.” This one hit the table in pretty good shape; most of the discussion focused on finding a better term than “stunt” for one particular line. She used only six lines, but they were long lines. My opinion was that she should try using the same wording with more but shorter lines. I didn’t mention this either, because I was half way through one of the few cookies left. They were really good cookies. Better than the weather. Better than the trip home. Better than this blog posting. Good thing I have a metabolism like a shrew. Now what I need are a few good ideas for more poems. Or a magnetic poetry kit.


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