Saturday, February 02, 2008

ABC WXYZ -- The cat's in the cupboard but he can't see me

Mike Snider is gracious enough to say nice things about my "Barefoot in Florence," my ABC villanelle for Anny Ballardini (see a couple of entries below), and to extend the fledgling tradition with an ABC villanelle of his own.

I do seem to be inventing forms these days, without really setting out to do so. But I've always been a tinkerer, I guess. At Iowa, in my frighteningly extreme youth, the first time I tried to write a sestina, I didn't know how to do it, and so instead of making the second stanza FAEBDC, I just made it BCDEFA. I suppose I could have claimed that as an innovation, but it was just dumb. But in the same poem I did something else deliberately, that I hadn't thought of as an innovation, but Don Justice was very generous in praise of -- the Walking Enjambment. The first line of the first stanza was enjambed into the second line, then the second line of the second stanza into the third line, and so on. When I got to the last stanza, of course, there was no place for the enjambment to go, so I hit upon the perfect terrible idea of enjambing it in a circle, putting a caesura at the beginning of the first line of the last stanza, as if it had been enjambed from somewhere or other. Fortunately, no one noticed that, and Justice complimented the gracefulness of just letting the device disappear.

It's a device I haven't overused, I hope, but I did use it again in The Map of the Bear, which you can find on my page on Anny's Poet's Corner. There, I took the refrain line, "The only map is the map of the bear," and enjambed it on a different foot at the end of every stanza, so one foot of it appears at the end of the first stanza, two at the end of the second, three at the end of the third, and the whole line, unbroken, at the end of the poem.

And then there are my 5/4 syllabic poems, which are featured in my new chapbook "Take Five: Poems in 5/4 Time."

Here's the youthful sestina:

IF YOU'S WHITE

"They are developing some very strong feelings about this music -- so much so that I have heard some white country blues singers say, `I want to be Negro.'"
John Cohen, Sing Out!


A young man with dark sweater and a white
Face, in the sidewalk shadows of New York,
Shading his eyes to dim his skin toward black,
A battered (by choice) guitar held in his hands
While in his mind he sees a soulful blues
Moaning along the highways of the South.

There is no earth--it's barren in New York--
He tries to pluck a bass string with a black
Thumb, but the sterile whiteness of his hands
Is not for digging roots and picking blues
That grow along the highways of the South.
He pulls up milkweed, fluffy, dry and white.

The woman that he's living with is black,
He sees the race's character in her hands;
The suffering that goes to breathe the blues
Alive, in the fields and road gangs of the South
Whispers beyond the range of any white--
Although she's never been outside New York.

He'll tell you, "Man, just look at that spade's hands!
They look like they were born to play the blues!
(You know the way they breed 'em in the South.)
There's nothing wrong with him except that white
Soul, from the shallow spirit of New York
That robbed him of his birthright (which was black).

Sometimes a weary voice sings him a blues.
It may have drifted upward from the South,
He scarcely hears it: "Fella, be glad you're white!
You can buy better guitars up in New York
To sing about what happens to a black
Man, with cold iron shackles on his hands."

The kind of thing that happens in the South,
And hate the cops--that's safer if you're white,
Yes, fella, even up here in New York.
This is the time, you're thinking, to be black;
Well, if that's so, you have it on your hands."
"Was that an eight-bar or a twelve-bar blues?"

He sits in a White Castle in New York,
A cup of black coffee warming his cool hands
Too frigid for a blues bred in the South.

6 comments:

Stefan said...

Good JOb!: )

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