Thursday, January 30, 2014

Assignment 4: Poem Response

Two Dog Night
Two Dog Night - Gene Amondson

Those Winter Sundays - Robert Hayden

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze.  No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?

This is one of my favorite poems, mostly because of the strong winter imagery.  Robert Hayden has achieved a powerful image, and having grown up in the north, I can relate to the terrible weather that encourages everyone to stay in bed.  His words like “blueblack cold” and “splintering” create a sense of pain, which strengthen the empathy a reader feels towards the family.  “Blueblack” reminded me of a bruise or the early morning sky, a time that makes the air feel even colder.  The word itself is harsh and direct – I think I fell in love with this poem on that word alone.

The first line is important because it stresses the father’s efforts to crawl out of bed every morning – even Sundays – and warm the house.  It’s a wonderful twist, for the family described in the poem is quite cold; the narrator is afraid to rise even after the fire’s heat has spread.  I enjoyed the poems contrasts: the bitter cold outside against the warmed interior, and the lack of gratitude of youth against the later appreciation and understanding.

I believe this poem is relatable, especially because of the vagueness of the characters.  Besides the “cracked hands”, there are no adjectives that describe their appearance or individual personalities.  And having all been children once, we’ve all been in situations where we didn’t understand our parents, didn’t comprehend their efforts, didn’t thank them. 

The last line was so powerful as well.  “Austere” and “lonely” are sad, silent words that reflect the mood of the household.  The fact that the author chose the word “offices” was interesting as it hinted at the “workplace”, as if love is a job that must be done no matter what you get in return.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Assignment 3: Imaginist Poem

Swimming Pool

Behind the berry red umbrellas
Where in the shade, women sip through straws of lemonade,
I have found a harbor from the dog days.

It’s a bathtub for the giants
Fortified with cat tongue concrete on which
You cannot run.
But you so desperately want to run,
And you just might.
Leap into the patches of glittering blue between the
Bobbing rubber ducks
And submerge yourself in the cool oasis.

White splashes interrupt
Conversations of bubbly laughter as bursts of
Salmon pink and tangerine appear and disappear.
And then reappear,
Neon gems in this sparkling aquatic jewelry box.

You catch a glimpse of goggle eyes,
Springing from the surface like the popcorn
They sell at the bamboo counter,
Then dunking below the surface as you blink.

All around are silhouettes of splattered footstep,
But in an instant
Are soaked up by the sponge of the sun.

The heat sizzles
The heat speaks in a low buzz,
The one voice you know is speaking to you.

So what are you waiting for?
Dive in.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Assignment 2: Response to Stephen Dobyns

Breakfast - Edouard Vuillard
"Breakfast" by Edouard Vuillard

Oatmeal Deluxe - Stephen Dobyns

This morning, because the snow swirled deep
around my house, I made oatmeal for breakfast.
At first it was too runny so I added more oatmeal,
then it grew too thick so I added water.
Soon I had a lot of oatmeal. The radio
was playing Spanish music and I became
passionate: soon I had four pots of oatmeal.
I put them aside and started a new batch.
Soon I had eight pots. When the oatmeal cooled,
I began to roll it with my hands, making
small shapes: pigs and souvenir ashtrays. Then
I made a foot, then another, then a leg. Soon
I’d made a woman out of oatmeal with freckles
and a cute nose and hair made from brown sugar
and naked except for a necklace of raisins.
She was five feet long and when she grew harder
I could move her arms and legs without them
falling off. But I didn’t touch her much -
she lay on the table – sometimes I’d touch her
with a spoon, sometimes I’d lick her in places
it wouldn’t show. She looks like you, although
her hair is darker, but the smile is like yours,
and the eyes, although hers are closed. You say:
what has this to do with me? And I should say:
I want to make more women from Cream of Wheat.
But enough of such fantasy. You ask me
why I don’t love you, why you can’t
live with me. What can I tell you? If I
can make a woman out of oatmeal, my friend,
what trouble could I make for you, a woman?


The proposed poem for this week’s assignment was Stephen Dobyns’ The Street, but after reading through more of his work I stumbled across “Oatmeal Deluxe” and immediately wanted to respond.  The name alone caught my eye for its peculiar implications.  In my opinion, it is very difficult to make oatmeal “deluxe”, let alone interesting in any way, so naturally I was intrigued. 

Dobyns begins this poem very casually as he makes breakfast for himself.  In the first four lines his tone is straightforward and perhaps a bit resentful.  The image of the beautiful and swiftly falling snow is greatly contrasted by this man explaining his difficulties with making an incredibly boring breakfast.
Suddenly the poem takes a strange turn as soon as the Spanish music begins to play, important imagery as it sets up the stage for something intimate. 

Oatmeal Deluxe has an obvious sense of humor created by the word choice and subject matter.  I love the narrator’s attention to detail – “freckles and a cute nose and hair made from brown sugar and naked except for a necklace of raisins” – but it’s almost sad that he’s willing to go this far to prove his point.  In the end you discover that a woman loves him but he doesn’t love her back; he’d much prefer an oatmeal woman, so she must be pretty bad. 

The use of exaggeration makes this poem such a pleasant read.  The imagery is very strong and a reader can easily picture the endless pots of mush overflowing the kitchen counters.  There is also the heavy intimacy that so strongly conflicts with the dullness of oatmeal.

One of the most powerful aspects of Dobyns’ piece, however, is the metamorphosis that occurs throughout.  As I previously mentioned, the poem begins so informally, but the narrator develops an aggressive tone by the end.  This is enhanced by the author’s use of dialogue and interrogation, a confrontation that gives meaning to his obsession with cereal.  He argues that he needs nothing but his oatmeal woman, a conclusion that indicates distaste for his admirer and pride for himself.

I found Oatmeal Deluxe very quirky and enjoyable, and almost relatable as I love breakfast and on some days would consider it much more comforting than a human relationship.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Assignment 1 : Thirteen Ways of Wearing Socks

(a poem inspired by Wallace Stevens’ Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird)

They are hospital socks
Sewn to cushion a newborn
And not yet worn.
Suitable, yes, for an egg or shell
But instead, something truly fragile.

She slips them over her fingers,
Magic kicking in.
Suddenly her hands are wings,
Detective gloves or mermaid fins
And somehow they’re always in stock.

Her parents spit icy words.
She quivers at the cold snap.
At least her feet are warm.

Hidden beneath the bright boughs
The box is too small for a pony,
Too flat for the doll from Mr. Pete’s corner shop
(The one that smells like peanut butter),
But just right for pink bobbies.
They aren’t even frilly.

The locker room is home to
An infestation of white cotton,
Moderately dampened with the sweat
Of humiliation
From another successful gym class.

When he walks over her heart stops
As he looks her up and down.
“They don’t match.”
One is purple.
One is red to match her face.
She hates everything.

They land just below her knees
Surrounded by a sea of ankle cuffs
That are so far below her.
Today she is queen.
But she’ll never wear them again.

The socks come off first,
And then her innocence.

There’s no way these belong to her.
The creases are misaligned
With the gentle tapering of size nine.
So who is she?

Every laundry day is a lesson in coordination.
He still folds them in half,
Throws them in a drawer to get lost.

They’re lost.
What an idiot.

She can no longer put them on.
Her back keeps her looking straight forward
And slightly down
At the short and sorrowful sidewalk ahead.

They are hospital socks
Sewn to cushion her fall
And worn by too many.
Suitable for just a few days more

For she is truly fragile.