What be poetry?

Poetry is an artistic form of communication conveyed by written and/or spoken words. It often illicits a sensory, emotional and/or imaginative response in the reader. Poems often, but not always, include technical linguistic enhancements such as meter, rhyme, sonic devices and/or imagery.

Poetree’d at Seed: A Modern Zine

Poetree’d is an anthology/ modern zine by Grace Valentini, a student at SEED Alternative Secondary School in Liam Rodrigues’ English class.  

The zine format has been reinvented as a blog- its natural transition from the punk formats of the 1970s.

This zine is about poetry. It includes a collection of ten poems. All poems included were written by contemporary Canadian authors. Three of them were written by me, Grace Valentini. Mainly these are poems which I personally found movinq. Although some of the major themes presented in this zine are identity, personal relationships and food.

Each poem is also accompanied by an image. All pictures included are by the same artist, Marc Chagall. He is not a Canadian, however, his work was mentioned in a Canadian’s poem that is included in this zine. That poem is “The Time Around Scars” by Michael Ondaatje. Poems and pictures are paired with explanations as to their associations.

Margaret Atwood

You may have heard of Margaret Atwood recently in Toronto as Doug Ford’s comments about not recognizing this icon sparked tongue-in-cheek comments by library supporters about her campaign for mayor.

You can read more about the campaign in a Toronto Star article here: http://www.thestar.com/news/article/1032825—doug-ford-comments-spark-atwood-for-mayor-movement

Margaret Atwood does live in Toronto, however, she is not actually campaigning for public office. The 72-year old Canadian writer, educator and activist was born in Ottawa. Atwood also did her undergraduate degree in Toronto and has been heavily involved with universities ever since. She is known for several novels, short stories, and her poetic prowess. 

Link: An interview with Margaret Atwood about herself as a poet

http://www.nytimes.com/books/00/09/03/specials/atwood-oates.html

Atwood is an award-winning poet. She has 19 published poetry collections. Two of her poems, “The Woman Who Could Not Live With Her Faulty Heart” and “This is a Photograph of Me” are included in this zine. Her first poetry collection, “Double Persephone” was published in 1961 and garnered her the E.J. Pratt Medal. “The Door” is her most recent collection, as it was published in 2007. Thus, Atwood’s poetry has recieved much recognition.

Atwood has had a strong association with English education, particularly in universities, throughout her life. She first earned her Bachelor’s degree from Victoria College (University of Toronto) with a major in English, minor in French and Philosophy. Her Master’s degree was earned at Radcliffe College in Massachusetts. She briefly attended Harvard for a graduate program, however, she did not complete her degree at that school. Nevertheless, Atwood has several honourary university degrees. Margaret Atwood has taught at several universities throughout Canada and the United States. She has become an icon in English-language institution.

Margaret Atwood may not have a realistic chance at becoming mayor of Toronto, however, her work may lead readers to knowledge— particularly through her poetry and university involvement.

The Woman Who Could Not Live With Her Faulty Heart

 

I do not mean the symbol
of love, a candy shape
to decorate cakes with,
the heart that is supposed
to belong or break;
I mean this lump of muscle
that contracts like a flayed biceps,
purple-blue, with its skin of suet,
its skin of gristle, this isolate,
this caved hermit, unshelled
turtle, this one lungful of blood,
no happy plateful. 
All hearts float in their own
deep oceans of no light,
wetblack and glimmering,
their four mouths gulping like fish.
Hearts are said to pound:
this is to be expected, the heart’s
regular struggle against being drowned. 
But most hearts say, I want, I want,
I want, I want. My heart
is more duplicitious,
though no twin as I once thought.
It says, I want, I don’t want, I
want, and then a pause.
It forces me to listen, 
and at night it is the infra-red
third eye that remains open
while the other two are sleeping
but refuses to say what it has seen. 
It is a constant pestering
in my ears, a caught moth, limping drum,
a child’s fist beating
itself against the bedsprings:
I want, I don’t want.
How can one live with such a heart? 
Long ago I gave up singing
to it, it will never be satisfied or lulled.
One night I will say to it:
Heart, be still,
and it will.


by Margaret Atwood



Accompanying Image: “Bride With Blue Face” by Marc Chagall

I included this picture because it depicts what appears to be a couple in a setting of darkness. The fish in the upper right corner also goes with the eerie feelings conveyed in the poem. There’s a stark contrast between the way the man and woman are shown, which goes with the feelings of ‘otherness’ discussed here. 
Analysis:

There is a measured and specific use of meter in this poem. Each line is 6 syllables long, except for the last two lines, which break this pattern for emphasis. The change in pattern also echoes the Shakespearian sonnet’s tradition of a break in rhyming scheme for the last couplet of a poem.

The subject of this poem is the heart, which takes on a variety of representations in different situations. The first imagery is visual, like a Valentine’s candy (a candy shape/ to decorate cakes with). The point of comparison would be sweet, artificial love. “The Woman Who Could Not Live With Her Faulty Heart” is about more substantial and nitty-gritty love. Thus, meatier aspects of the heart are discussed. For example, the heart as a tenor is compared to the bicep as a vehicle. The point of comparison between these two is that they are muscles which contract in similar ways. ‘Suet’ and ‘gristle’ also have meaty associations. 

This heart is also described in several ways that emphasize its desire to be single. The heart is ‘isolate’, For example, it is compared to a ‘caved hermit’. Hermits are people who make a conscious choice to live on their own, away from others. 
Metaphorically describing the heart as ‘an unshelled turtle’ that paints the heart as a soft and meaty again. It also gives the heart some character, as if it’s usually shy but forced in to a state of exposure. 


There is no regular rhyming scheme used in this poem yet ‘pound’ and ‘drowned’ rhyme, as if the heart beat holds morbid qualities. 


Repetition resonates ‘I want’, six times over, with a single “I don’t want”. 
A final metaphor for the poem’s subject as ‘the infra-red third eye that remains open’ holds symbolic connotations. In Italian culture, the third eye is known as ‘the evil eye’. It also represents the chakra relating to individuality in other cultures. This stanza is also a cryptic and descriptive reference to sleep. The next stanza echoes sonic imagery of bedsprings. 


Finally the speaker makes peace with the hear’s perpetual dissatisfaction, in a way that almost seems at once an acceptance of the state of a love life and the entirety of life itself (“heart be still/ and it will). 

Blank Sonnet

The air smells of rhubarb, occasional
Roses, or first birth of blossoms, a fresh,
Undulant hurt, so body snaps and curls
Like flower. I step through snow as thin as script
Watch white stars spin dizzy as drunks, and yearn
To sleep beneath a patchwork quilt of rum.
I want the slow, sure collapse of language
Washed out by alcohol. Lovely Shelley,
I have no use for measured, cadenced verse
If you won’t read. Icarus-Iike, I’ll fall
Against this page of snow, tumble blackly
Across vision to drown in the white sea
That closes every poem -the white reverse
That cancels the blackness of each image.

 
by Eliot George Clarke



Accompanying Image: “La Branche” by Marc Chagall

I chose this picture because it shows ‘roses’ and a lot of pink hues surrounding the woman in the tree, like the first 4 lines of this poem. 


Analysis:


As the title “Blank Sonnet” suggests, this is a sonnet. Thus, it is a closed-form poem. This poem is 14 lines long. However, Eliot Clarke George does not follow the traditional abab,cdcd,efef,ghgh, rhyming couplet scheme of a sonnet. Perhaps the slight rebellion to the traditional format relates to the sentiment stated in the 9th and 10th lines: “I have no use for measured, cadenced verse…”.
The initial imagery is olfactory “smells of rhubarb, occasional/ Roses”. Both items mentioned are sweet and pink, which lends to secondary visual imagery. The word ‘undulant’ is almost imagery in its adverb qualities. It reminds me of the qualities of a female dancers’ movements.
There’s also an allusion to the Greek myth of Icarus, a deity who fell from flying too close to the sun. The point of comparison is ‘the fall’, which could also relate to the speaker ‘falling’ for Shelley in a romantic way.
 

The major message of this poem is an exasperated speaker who turns to drink about his relationship with ‘Shelley”. The white sea and snow are metaphors for the white page upon which the script is printed. Unfortunately for the writer/speaker, “Shelley” (presumably the object of his affection) does not succumb to his usual methods of wooing. She does not read. 
I think that this poem may have had a more effective resonance had the author obscured the tenor of ‘Shelley’. Then the poem would have been easier to relate to for a greater audience. 

Becoming The Other

They are always talking about commitment: hers to him, his to his

family. The greatest good for the greatest number 

 
and he has four children, the youngest is five. A boy should have
a man’s example means a son should live with his father
 
so she sees her teenage son on weekends. Supposed to be
practicing, he slouches on the piano stool while her lover
 
sits with her at the kitchen table, sipping wine, glancing at
his watch. Heart and soul her son picks out over and over and
 
she wants to scream at him to stop playing games, to grow up,
before it’s too late, before he’s caught
 
as she’s been caught in middle age, when she should know better,
when she should be used to sleeping by herself  


even if someone else is in her bed. Reciting the alphabet of sin:
scarlet A, the ex, the why. And she’s sick of it all, the exhilarated
 
pulse when she sees this man, hears his voice, when she can’t
help the shivers, fever that flushes her face, melts
 
her, fills her eyes, seeps from her groin. She gasps
for breath, her whole chest in a vice, her hand

so numb she can barely lift the phone when it rings. Call it
angina, call it love. Either way, it’s nausea

that bends her double. The look on her son’s face, the averted
gaze of her lover. How did this choice become

imperative, how did she, who only longs to be the one, the
only one, become the other?


by Betsy Struthers



Accompanying Image: “Love, Hat, and A Song” by Marc Chagall

I included this image because it shows a man and woman kissing in a very dark light as well as several aspects of home scenery discussed in the poem. 


Analysis
It seems like this woman’s sense of self esteem was thuroughly attached to her status as a married woman who shared her intimacy with a single man (the one). Her sense of self has become confused since her divorce. She finds it difficult to live with how she has moved on to a different person (the other) and questions how life got to be that way. The contemporary blended family is discussed in this poem.
There are eleven couplets in “Becoming The Other”. There’s some auditory imagery (8th line) as ‘Heart and Soul’ is played on the piano. An allusion to ‘The Scarlet Letter’ is made in the 12th line, which relates to the shame that the speaker feels about her new lover. “The ex, the why” echoes the sounds made by the alphabetical letters x an y, although here they have different connotations. Those are ‘the ex-lover’ and ‘why’, the reasons that they are no longer the loved one.
The aforementioned are all great aspects. However, what truly sets “Becoming The Other” apart is kinaesthetic imagery. For example: “call it angina/ call it love. Either way, it’s nausea”. Angina is a heart attack and it seems as though this woman is being attacked by the feelings of the different parts of herself and the way that they manifest. There’s so much stress from the way that her primal desires’ conflict with her morality and her familys’ desires. It puts strain and stress on her physical heart (the same body part associated with ‘love’. This conflict also causes her fear and anxiety (which manifests as nausea).

The Time Around Scars

A girl whom I’ve not spoken to                               
or shared coffee with for several years                               
writes of an old scar.                                       
On her wrist it sleeps, smooth and white,                               
the size of a leech.                                       
I gave it to her                                            
brandishing a new Italian penknife.                               
Look, I said turning,                                       
and blood spat onto her shirt.                                   
                                       
My wife has scars like spread raindrops                                
on knees and ankles,                                       
she talks of broken greenhouse panes
and yet, apart from imagining red feet,
(a nymph out of Chagall)
I bring little to that scene.
We remember the time around scars,
they freeze irrelevant emotions
and divide us from present friends.
I remember this girl’s face,
the widening rise of surprise.
 
And would she
moving with lover or husband
conceal or flaunt it,
or keep it at her wrist
a mysterious watch.
And this scar I then remember
is a medallion of no emotion.
 
I would meet you now
and I would wish this scar
to have been given with
all the love
that never occurred between us.

 

by Michael Ondaatje

 

Accompanying Image: “La Promenade” By Marc Chagall

This picture shows a man and a woman holding hands, yet the woman is floating away from the man- as ‘the girl’ in “The Time Around Scars” has gotten away from the speaker over time.

It seems that the speaker is faithful to his wife, yet reminisces about a love that could have been with a certain girl. It’s also a statement and connection between the emotional reactions that different people can have to the same things, as well as the relationship between physical and emotional ‘hurt’.

The main characters in this poem are the speaker, the wife, and the girl who he has ‘not spoken to or shared coffee with for several years’ (hereafter referred to as ‘the girl’).

The main character of this poem is ‘the girl’, or more accurately her scar, which is described in such a way that it seems to have its own vital force. There’s a personification of the girl’s scar- it ‘sleeps’. The tenor here is the scar, the vehicle is sleep and the point of comparison is that they lie dormant with life only in imagination and memories. Comparing the scar to a leech, even if only in terms of its size, gives it life.
 
The 9th line reads ‘blood spat on her wrist’. The way the verb is utilized here makes the injury seem as if it has a life of its own, perhaps an effort of the writer to dissociate himself from pain caused to a woman he seems to have had romantic feelings for. If the blood ‘spat’ on its own, its no fault of the speaker.

Attention is then drawn to the speaker’s wife. A simile compares the tenor of the wife’s scars to the vehicle ‘raindrops’. The point of comparison is the way that they spread- presumably in many wet, messy droplets. The wife herself is the tenor, compared to a ‘nymph’ (secondary vehicle: ‘out of Chagall’). There are a couple of points of comparison- with the nymph as a young, creative female deity from Greek mythology, with increasingly sexual connotations in contemporary culture.
One can infer that ‘Chagall’ refers to Marc Chagall, a surrealist painter. This metaphorical conceit alludes to the greater surreality of the poem. It also assists to create a set of vivid shared experiences for the reader familiar with Chagall’s art.

In the 25th line, the girl’s scar is brought up again as ‘a medallion’- which is a lifeless item with much less emotion than the vehicles it was previously compared to. Finally, this poem concludes with its true meaning for the speaker, which is a pining after what could have been (I wish this scar/ to have been given with/ all the love/ that never occurred between us). 

The Feast Of St. Valentine

by Bert Almon

 

Imagine                                     
spending Valentine’s Day                           
fetching a side of beef from the country:                       
that’s what our son called out as we drove away.                   
Romance is where you find it, I thought.                       
 
While the butcher’s boy fetched the hand truck                   
full of rock-hard packages from the freezer,                   
I looked over the paper on the wall,
the Licence to Operate an Abattoir.
When I first saw abattoir in a book
I thought it was the most beautiful word
in the world. Romance is how you hear it.
Once I was sure that venison
must be the best meat in the world,
just from the sound of it. It meant
hunting in Sherwood Forest with Maid Marian  
and the feasting and music afterward.
You and I can make a feast with hamburger.
Romance is how you taste it.  
 
We had lunch with your relatives
in the White Goose Restaurant,
where Valentine’s meant paper hearts on the walls,
a rose on each table. Your brother,
who raised that frozen critter,
kidded me, saying we men had better have oysters
if it’s Valentine’s day. I did, and all the way
to the city I thought of roses:
the antique shop called The White Rose
made me remember the old brands,
Five Roses Flour and Four Roses Whisky,
the little miracles of yeast.
Romance is where you see it.
Just before the city, we drove by
The Lucky Horseshoe Ranch,
a most auspicious name,
and my heart raced in a delirium
brought on by the oysters,
or Cupid nudging me in the ribs with an arrow.
Romance is how you feel it.

 

Accompanying Image: “Sacrifice To The Nymph” by Marc Chagall

 I included this picture because it shows what can be interpreted as the killing of a cow. 

Analysis

 

"The Feast of St. Valentine" has a symbollic title. Valentine’s day is a celebration of love and relationships, traditionally reserved for dates between romantically involved people. This poem romanticizes the beef industry.

There’s consistent use of repetition of the phrase ’romance is how you…’.

 

Commanding the reader to ‘imagine’ is also prescriptive, and it increases the efficacy of imagery.

Let us draw our attention to the 8th line: “Licence to operate an abbatoir.” An abbatoir is another name for a slaughterhouse- albeit a softer-sounding term. Thus, sonic connotations contribute to the cumulative glamorization. 

There’s also an allusion to the legend of Robin Hood in the 15th line: ‘hunting in Sherwood Forrest with Maid Marian”. It’s written in such a way to induce feelings of heroism in the reader.

Bert Almon’s “The Feast of St. Valentine” is all-but a poetic advertisment for beef. It effectively conveys a romantic image of slaughterhouses.

The ‘you’ in this poem is prescriptive, as the ‘you’ in Leonard Cohen’s ‘Suzanne”. It implores the reader to consider the way that they themselves experience (find/hear/taste/see/feel) romance.

Notes for The Legend of Salad Woman

Since my wife was born                                     

 
she must have eaten                                   
 
the equivalent of two-thirds                               
 
of the original garden of Eden.                               
 
Not the dripping lush fruit                               
 
or the meat in the ribs of animals                           
 
but the green salad gardens of that place.                           
 
The whole arena of green                               
 
would have been eradicated                               
 
as if the right filter had been removed                           
 
leaving only the skeleton of coarse brightness.                       
 
 
All green ends up eventually                               
 
churning in her left cheek.                               
 
Her mouth is a laundromat of spinning drowning herbs.                   

She is never in fields                               

but is sucking the pith out of grass.                           

I have noticed the very leaves from flower decorations                   

grow sparse in their week long performance in our house.                   

The garden is a dust bowl.                               


On our last day in Eden as we walked out                           

she nibbled the leaves at her breasts and crotch.                       

But there’s none to touch                                   

none to equal                                       

the Chlorophyll Kiss   

by Michael Ondaatje


Accompanying Image:  Temptation (Adam and Eve) by Marc Chagall

This picture fits the poem because they both allude to the story of Adam and Eve. 

Analysis

This poem was originally published in “The Cinnamon Peeler”, a collection of poems by Michael Ondaatje published in 1997.  I originally looked up Michael Ondaatje’s work because I read and thoroughly enjoyed his novel “In The Skin of A Lion”. Ondaatje is also Canadian, although he was born in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon).

"Notes for The Legend of Salad Woman’  conveys a message about innocence and relationships through descriptive language, consistent Biblical allusion and captivating metaphors.
Descriptive language and an extensive vocabulary contribute to this poem’s depth. ‘Dripping lush fruit’ is an example of a line that provides kinaesthetic  imagery.  There is assonance between the words ‘arena’ and ‘green’.

The 9th line includes a simile: ‘as if the right filter had been removed’. At first upon reading this line, I thought it a reference another part of the story of Adam and Even in Genesis. That is, that God removed Adam’s right rib and from it created Eve.

Let us look at the 11th line: ‘leaving only a skeleton of coarse brightness’.

Comparing the wife to a skeleton is analytical and ironic.  It’s analytical because analysis involves looking at the composite elements of something rather than its entirety. A skeleton is one part of the structure of a person. It is ironic because one would think that he would speak about his wife in a romantic or at least endearing way. A skeleton is not a very lovable or refined image to mainstream society. This holds especially true since ‘skeleton’ is paired with the adjective ‘coarse’,  as if her skeleton were lacking refinement.

Another part of this poem that garnered attention is the metaphor ‘her mouth is a spinning laundromat of drowning herbs’ . The wife is compared to a machine used for cleaning clothing. Here, the tenor is the wife’s mouth, laundromat is the vehicle, and the point of comparison is that they are both places in which items used to cover the body are tossed and seperated for their desirable parts.  This metaphor includes the secondary comparison of clothing to salad leaves.

In a laundromat, clothing would be cleaned, while in the writer’s wife’s mouth green leaves are chewed as the process of digestion (which seperates the parts of food needed by the body from those not needed) begins, which is a continuation of the allusion to the biblical story of Adam and Eve woven throughout the poem.

This metaphor also includes personification of the herbs as ‘drowning’. It makes sense to describe them with a deathly word as, unlike most clothes going through a wash cycle, the herbs would actually cease to exist as plants once they are digested. The once-vital leaves lose their status as a seperate entity and become one with ’the wife’ ‘s body.

The use of the word ‘pith’ is interesting because the word has multiple connotations. Although one meaning seems suited as that literally meant (the soft central part of a plant), pith also refers to a certain way of killing cattle.  These descriptions make the poem seem slightly morbid. Dark imagery continues through as the garden, once vital, is metaphorically referred to as ‘a dust bowl’.

The last five lines of the poem harken to imagery that is more of what one might expect from the relationship between a married couple. There is a return to the initial allusion of Eden. Morbid imagery is forsaken as attention is drawn to his wife’s sexuality (“nibbled the leaves at her breasts and crotch”). In the original Genesis story, removal of the leaves covering these private areas was justification for banishment from the utopian garden. The last three lines are slightly more cryptic. I would infer that the meaning is that there’s no touch that can equal the innocence that was once had in paradise’s garden (where ‘chlorophyll kiss’ again refers to the leaves that once covered Adam and Eve’s genitalia).

Bringing Wings

Deserted, on your own
making life alone
fallen idols, no fun    
want motion- a run.
                           
Secrets been denied
knee-deep rivers cried.                                           
Becoming zombie                               
to deny agony.
“Other”,‘them’, the blame;
disappointment, shame!                       
Realize; all one, same.
 
Life is not a game.
Become someone- Eyes
Open. Become more than lies.
Bust all broken trust-
be not like Icarus.
 
Light the right flames
push for a known name.
 
It was so heinous                                       
thinking combustion
would be spontaneous.
life deserves planning,
fires need fanning
 
peace, sign of the dove,
above- prove life love
                                                   
no more excuses
bringing past abuses
evermore withdrawn
get in to new dawn
existential choices
listen; inner voices
accomplishments, nice
substitute verse, vice.
 
peace, sign of the dove,
above- prove this life love
 
Think- Why exist here?
Awareness makes clear
channelled energy,
time and place to be.
Let others hear, see.
Positive qi
Snuff apprehension,
ignore the tension
might be in your senses
from fences, pretenses.
Climbing to the top,
reaching past old flops.
 
catching oxygen
consistently win
raising my own wings
peace, sign of the dove,
above- prove life love
action, success.

 

by Grace Valentini

 

 

 

 

Accompanying Image: Creation De L’Hombre by Marc Chagall

Creation De L’Hombre includes a winged figure such as is figuratively discussed in “Bringing Wings’. There’s a light and dark side to the image as there is to the poem