May 2, 2011

Max’s Musings

By Max Molleston

April showers bring May flowers. That is true, but what else is true is that pretty perennials push into the sun and fade, many by May. Trips to the garden centers at big boxes. Those standing on their own over decades of plant life and good service are backups. At our homes, now our condo in Coralville, Rhoada is seldom excited about these trips and the expense until Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as we’ve named the date in country and towns, flowers for the departed and for our forebears at their burial sites, their cemetery.

I am constantly reading, although, we do strong exercising each week, so I am into what I want to read, and that includes lots of poetry, and the reasons for its composure. Although I am keeping up with the current crop of folks who write poetry for a living and those who are good amateurs, I review the masters, too. Talk in the business of writing tells you to read first. There are lots of argument asking if poetry is emotion, and it is. Emotions of the moment or over time, can produce a poem sometimes described as “shorthand” for a longer session called prose. I am now involved in a review of poets who were prominent in the middle of the last century. In other words, the 1950s. The editor is the late John Ciardi, poet and critic and a mover of literary arts in the 20th Century. Some poets included are not now discussed as 60 years has gone by since publication.

There are standouts like poet Robert Lowell, the up east person of privilege who earned his lofty position. Lowell battled mental illness, which made little difference in his poetry except perhaps enhancement. some would be confused reading him. His excellence has spanned decades and may well span centuries. Recently, the literary world is enthused about Robert Lowell because of published letters to and from Elizabeth Bishop, a long time friend and some would say, love interest. Bishop’s poetry is also exposed in this book. A convert to the Catholic Faith, Robert Lowell is eloquent, as poet. Here’s part of his poem Colloquy in Black Rock. Two stanzas conclude the poem.

House of our Savior who was hanged till death
My heart, beat faster, faster. In Black Mud
Stephen the martyr was broken down to blood:
Our ransom is the rubble of his death,

Christ walks on the black water. In Black Mud
Darts the Kingfisher. On Corpus Christi, heart,
Over the drum-beat of St. Stephens choir
I hear him, Stupor Mundi, and the mud
Flies from his hunching wings and beak–my heart,
The Blue Kingfisher dives on you in fire.

If there is argument about not understanding, I understand. For folks who like the way words follow one another, how they sound when spoken it’s good. For those of us reading only, the same may be said about the words as they travel through our brains and work our emotions. A few years ago, I was one who attended a big poetry celebration in Des Moines. Four well-known poets, two men, one of which was Ted Kooser, the other Billy Collins, and two women. None had met the others. I composed a poem about my feelings on that.


Poets seldom clamor for glamour
of togetherness, preferring solitude
on walks and other travels thoughts take;
travail describes, for many, the rend
needed for poetic eruptions.
A distinct vision to raise and knead.
As the Muse yaws and otherwise bends
from brain to brain. more than one labors
to press for a message from thoughts assembled.

If the pathway through is difficult for the poet, and it is most of the time, the reader can claim some of that as well. I read for enjoyment, but I can be critical, as well. There are poets and poetry I can’t understand. It is an “at first” thing with some, and with other poems it is drawing a blank. Challenges of poetry working back to the days of the Greeks and all that mythology is not in my basket. Little is done with those mythical days now, except to “throw in” a quote or two. For me, unstudied, it is a turn off, but sometimes a good dictionary will clear up a word or phrase and conduct one further into understanding. Enough of the hot air. Once in a while I get this way. Hope for change next month.

Correction Notice: We regret an error in the Max’s Musings article in the April 50+ Lifestyles. In the first paragraph which was introducing the poem Reichley Journeys to Civil War, the next to the last sentence read “I titled it to humor speaker George Reichley” It should have read “I titled it to honor speaker George Reichley.” 50+ Lifestyles regrets the error.