Showing 1 - 10 of 720 Poetry annotations

Plaintive Music

Domen, Ron

Last Updated: Dec-05-2017
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

Physician Ron Domen's first full-length poetry collection, "Plaintive Music," deserves, and requires, close and attentive reading. In these 47 poems, Domen favors short lines and keen attention to both sound and image.   

The collection begins with the poet's observations of nature, primarily celebratory poems with lush descriptions and musical language, including poetic tributes to  artist Charles Burchfield (pp. 1-6) and to Domen's father (pp.8-9). 

Human life is often considered through the lens of woods and birds, gray slate and rain, naturally occurring elements that lead to memories of family and place ("Wooden Ties" p. 10 and "Cutting Wood with my Son" p. 14). Domen's images, which are rich and exact, often reflect his physician training and experiences.  Consider these lines from "Woodturner" (p. 12).  The poet is working a lathe, shaping a birch log into a bowl until "the white / grain streaked blue and brown / with minerals nursed from the earth / glows like the veined translucent / skin of a newborn child."

The middle section of "Plaintive Music" includes poems that examine the many facets of the poet's experiences as a physician, beginning with the wonderful "Studying Medicine in Guadalajara, Mexico: 1971-1975" (pp 17-22). 

To read this powerful poem is to be there, driving to "the Queen City" five thousand feet high / in the Valley of Altemajac south / of the Tropic of Cancer" (p. 18), witnessing the lack of sophisticated cures ("No oxygen or drugs or IVs / and no machines to shock the heart / back to life only bare hands / pushed on his chest . . . " p. 19), "going door to door / to find the sick" (p. 20), and dissecting corpses pulled from a formaldehyde tank ("and each day scraped / and peeled away more flesh until nothing / was left to dissect and only / the bones remained" p. 22).  

This poem is followed by a long poetic prose statement, "Belated Letter to a Mother," in which the narrator recalls a night thirty years ago when, as an internal medicine resident, he was called upon to care for a battered child and give witness to the complexities of human frailty. Embedded in the letter are a few lines that perfectly describe the role of the caregiver: "That sometimes all we can do is what the poet does-- "to see, to hear, to feel-- and more times than not, it is enough" (p. 25).  

Poems on pages 17-36 especially gain power from the poet-physician's point of view.  Final poems move again into the realm of nature, but here the themes are darker, reflecting the wages of learning to heal:

"I studied in medical school to learn / what actually lies under thick / layers of skin and how the heart / hides behind the breastplate" ("Armadillo" p. 33).  

This collection comes full circle, beginning in "a time when flowers / had thoughts and the hills heard / turtles speak of the brilliant colors / of things growing" ("Beaver Creek" p. 1) and ending in winter, the darkest season, but not without its own beauty: "Snow begins to fall once again / on this windswept knoll along / the Lehigh River where the black // bony trees and dark gravestones / dot the slope of Nisky Hill" ("On Buying Our Gravesite" p. 61).

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Second Bloom

Krugovoy Silver, Anya

Last Updated: Dec-05-2017
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

These poems are not a cancer chronicle, but the experience of living with cancer is threaded through them in a way that illustrates beautifully how awareness of illness may permeate daily life, but is foregrounded and backgrounded, reshaped and revisited in shifting ways as it takes its course.  They encompass moments in family life, moments in the hospital, moments of spiritual longing and awareness of loss.  Together they offer a record of accommodation, acclimation, and complex acceptance.

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The Beautician

Gunn, Thom

Last Updated: Nov-06-2017
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

"Beautician" is a short poem about a beautician visiting a dead friend in the morgue, her sorrow at seeing her friend dead and not looking her best, even dead, and the beautician's attempts to rectify the situation. It is fifteen lines long, in three stanzas of five lines each, in iambic pentameter with a rhyming pattern of abbab. The rhyming is best described as approximate, e.g., "skill" with "beautiful" with "all".

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Mandatory Evacuation Zone

Aull, Felice

Last Updated: Oct-10-2017
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

In "Mandatory Evacuation Zone," Felice Aull has gathered 63 beautifully crafted poems in which she examines the intricacies of language and loss, of grief and healing.  Each of the book's five sections considers these themes in slightly different ways, always in language that is understated, vivid, and exact.  In Section I, we read poems that focus on the author's complicated family history and her early loss of homeland.  In "Tracings" (page 15), an unknown relative (thanks to online genealogy searches) reaches the narrator and wants to meet her.  She, however, only wishes to learn ". . . how my parents / and my infant self / made our tortuous way out . . . . " Brought in infancy from Germany to America, the author suffers the loss of both native homeland and native language ("Notes from an Alpine Vacation" page 16).  She searches photos of her mother and ponders museum note cards illustrated by Holocaust survivors ("Museum Notecards" page 18), imagining what she can't quite know and yet can't quite forget.  

Section II finds the narrator as a young woman in American, awakening to sexuality ("Gay Blades," "Camp Counselors Make Out,"  "On the Staircase" pages 29-31), becoming a wife and mother, and then a grandmother.  A grandchild's birth is both joyful and yet another "slipping toward / the edge of separation" ("Daughter in her Eighth Month" page 37). 

In Section III, the author turns her gaze to observations of the world around her, around us, aware of how many come to loss and death.  "Be prepare to mourn," she tells us in "Disaster in October" (page 49), and in the moving poem, "I Saw the Smoke," re-visions September 11th in words stripped of sentimentality and therefore made more powerful. 

Sections IV and V confront bodily loss through aging and illness, noting how, in so many ways, we try both to capture and to let go: "You snap photo upon photo / hoping to grasp and preserve / what cannot be grasped" (Capturing Alaska" page 66).  We learn of the most personal losses in poems of biopsies, surgeries, and chemotherapy.  When facing the unknown, every event might seem to hold a prediction.  In "Stunning Blows," a doorman stuns a mouse, claims that it's dead.  But the narrator, aware of the wages of time, writes, "But I still see it, like death, / moving toward me" (page 81).  At the book's end, we return to language, how it too can leave us ("Forget That" page 90).  Yet in the collection's final, gentle poems, the poet is "able, finally / to walk past the park's redbud tree / without weeping" ("Immunity" page 96).

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Catullus 101

Catullus, Gaius Valerius

Last Updated: Jul-30-2017
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

Latin

Multas per gentes et multa per aequora vectus
advenio has miseras, frater, ad inferias,
ut te postremo donarem munere mortis
et mutam nequiquam adloquerer cinerem,
quandoquidem fortuna mihi tete abstulit ipsum,
heu miser indigne frater adempte mihi.
nunc tamen interea haec, prisco quae more parentum
tradita sunt tristi munere ad inferias,
accipe fraterno multum manantia fletu
atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale.



English

Brother, I come o'er many seas and lands
To the sad rite which pious love ordains, 
To pay thee the last gift that death demands ;
And oft, though vain, invoke thy mute remains : 
Since death has ravish'd half myself in thee,
Oh wretched brother, sadly torn from me ! 

And now ere fate our souls shall re-unite,
To give me back all it hath snatch'd away, 
Receive the gifts, our fathers' ancient rite
To shades departed still was wont to pay ;
Gifts wet with tears of heartfelt grief that tell,
And ever, brother, bless thee, and farewell!

Catullus, G. V., & Lamb, G. (1821). The poems of Caius Valerius Catullus. London: J. Murray. Vol. II: page 94.

Catullus 101 is a 10 line elegy that Catullus, a Roman lyric poet (84 - 54? BCE), wrote upon the occasion of his visiting the tomb (probably as part of his trip to Bithynia in 57 BCE) of his brother, who had recently died in the Troad. We do not know much about his brother, whom he mentions several times (also in poems 65 and 68) in his 116 poems, but it is clear from this beautiful threnody that he loved him a great deal.

Written in elegiac couplets (comprising a two line sequence of a 6 foot line followed by a 5 foot one), this poem has justly become famous for its depth of emotion and its stylistic elegance, all neatly fitting into a 10 line jewel of poetry. Unlike the bulk of Catullus's oeuvre, which has for its most common subjects love and sex, in all their heights and depths - from marriage hymns to scurrilous poems more appropriately adorning subway walls as graffiti - this poem simply expresses the poet's sadness in profoundly solemn tones, invoking, in almost ritualistic manner, the Roman funeral rites ("inferias" in the original) due the dead by family. Some scholars feel that it might have been inscribed on the tomb. The gifts mentioned would have been modest ones, e.g., wine, lentils, honey and flowers.

Although the translation above is antiquated, it nicely renders the Latin. Others abound, including the three I also prefer, listed below.

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Annotated by:
Glass, Guy

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Biography

Summary:

Robert Lowell: Setting the River on Fire is “a study of genius, mania, and character” of American poet Robert Lowell (1917-1977).  It is meant to be neither an autobiography nor a critical study of Lowell’s literary output, but a study of an artist and his lifelong battle with Bipolar I Disorder, and an appreciation of how his art and illness were inseparably linked. The author, Kay Redfield Jamison, is a distinguished psychologist who has been quite open about her own struggles with the same disease, and whose lifework consists of exploring the link between Bipolar Disorder and creativity.     

Eschewing a purely chronological approach, Jamison divides her work into sections entitled “Origins,” “Illness,” “Character,” “Illness and Art,” and “Mortality.” In the first, she traces the history of mental illness within the poet’s illustrious Boston family.  We learn that Lowell’s great-great-grandmother was institutionalized at McLean Asylum for the Insane, which was to be the site of several of the poet’s own hospitalizations.  “Illness” is a clinical case study in prodromal childhood symptoms that progress to full-blown manic episodes. We follow the progress made by 20th century psychiatry from psychotherapy and ECT to Thorazine, and, finally, with the introduction of Lithium, to the possibility of prophylaxis against recurrences.
Later, in “Illness and Art,” Jamison brings her thoughts about creativity and art to full fruition by discussing what her research reveals about writers and artists.    

Appendices include diagnostic criteria for Bipolar Disorder, and an explanation of how Lowell’s psychiatric and medical records were made available by his daughter for the benefit of this volume.  

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Blood

Aleixandre, Vicente

Last Updated: May-23-2017
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

"Blood" ("La Sangre") is a poem in Spanish by Vincente Aleixandre, a member of the Spanish intellectual group called "The Generation of '27" and the 1977 Noble Laureate for Literature. It first appeared in "En Un Vasto Dominio", a collection published in Madrid in 1962, consisting, in part, of "a series of poems on parts of the body." (page 264). The present volume is a bilingual edition with the Spanish text on the left page and facing English translations by 15 different translators (including Willis Barnstone, Robert Bly and W. S. Merwin) on the right. The editor, Lewis Hyde, is a poet, translator and teacher of creative writing. He has also furnished an introduction to Aleixandre's work and the selections in this volume in particular, based in part on his personal acquaintance with the poet. Tomás O'Leary translated this poem, the only translation of his in the book.  

"Blood" has no formal elements or rhyme scheme. In a curiously casual voice, it describes the cycle (a word never used in this poem) that the blood makes in its journey from oxygenation in the lungs to the heart - nor are these organs mentioned by name in the Spanish text of the poem - and thence to all the near and remote cells of the body in order to deliver this beneficial oxygen. Once the blood has delivered its cargo, it completes the cycle by returning as de-oxygenated venous blood to the heart, the origin of the cycle, only to begin it, and the sustenance of life, anew.

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Admission, Children's Unit

Deppe, Theodore

Last Updated: Apr-11-2017
Annotated by:
Clark, Mark

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

The speaker of this poem is a nurse who is recalling and attempting to come to terms with a disturbing clinical encounter she’d had the week before.  (I should note at the outset that there’s no indication in the poem as to whether the nurse is male or female.  I choose to think of her as female).  What had happened is that a mother had brought her five-year-old son in for treatment, and the nurse’s exam revealed that the child had second- and third-degree burns on his torso—in the shape of a cross.  The mother, weeping, confessed that her boyfriend had, as a punishment, applied a cigarette to the child’s body—while the mother had held her son.  Seeing the mother’s tears, the nurse considered offering the woman some Kleenex, but could not bring herself to do so.  The child retrieved the box of Kleenex, then clung to his mother’s skirt, and glowered at the nurse.  Then the nurse had participated with three others in prying the boy away from his mother.  In the present of the poem, a week after the encounter, the nurse attempts to deal with the guilt and shame she feels in her failure of professional decorum and compassion—at having failed to rise above her moral judgment against the mother and offer the woman basic human kindness and respect.  In confronting the chaos of her emotions, the nurse turns to a story she’d learned in high school: the story of St. Lawrence.  The significance of her attempt to think with this story can be overshadowed, for readers, by the intensity of the clinical encounter she recalls; but her endeavor is of at least equal significance as the encounter.



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Diabetes

Dickey, James

Last Updated: Feb-01-2017
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

In the first part of this poem ("Sugar"), Dickey gives a wonderful series of images of diabetic symptoms: "I thirsted like a prince," "my belly going round with self- / made night-water," "having a tongue / of flame . . . . " The doctor preaches insulin and moderation. The poet tries to comply. He seems to accept this new life, "A livable death at last."In the poem's second part ("Under Buzzards"), the poet and his "companion" climb to a point on Hogback Ridge where they see buzzards circling. Seeing the birds of death, he reflects on his life and illness. Is all this medicine and moderation worthwhile? What will they accomplish? Regarding the body, the poet writes, "For its medical books is not / Everything: everything is how / Much glory is in it . . . . " In the end he takes "a long drink of beer."

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Dothead

Majmudar, Amit

Last Updated: Jan-06-2017
Annotated by:
Kohn, Martin

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

Dothead is Amit Majmudar’s 5th book (and 3rd collection of poetry). It is far-ranging in its reach and style, perhaps best described by the heading of its table of contents, “Kedgeree Ingredients.” Kedgeree, as one unfamiliar with the word (like me) discovers on the page facing the table of contents (in a photocopy of a dictionary page), is “a mess of rice cooked with butter and dal….” Among other (con) textual surprises in this book are an opening epigraph from Dr. Seuss- “It is fun to have fun/But you have to know how,” a passport photo of the author at about age 3 above his book jacket biosketch, and the title of the final poem in the collection, “Invocation.”  Front and center in a number of poems is the issue of identity, perhaps most tellingly in the title poem, “Dothead,” where an Indian-American teenager confronts his white classmates. In “T.S.A.” the poem’s speaker faces off against the airport screeners claiming solidarity with :
             "my dark unshaven brothers
whose names overlap with the crazies and God fiends,
             ourselves the goateed other”  (p.5)
His identity as a poet is beautifully expressed through “Steep Ascension,” a poem “for John Hollander” (the epigraph unfortunately is not included in this volume) that ends:
          “But John, I told him, beauty is a fire
                    those who burn hardest labor coldly for

and I for one will hold your labors dear,
          the music of meaning, the artistry that dares
                    to conjure walls that it might conjure doors” (p.25). 

Among his “political” poems, are two about children: one gunned down ("Lineage")  and one abused (“Invocation")” that begins:
“The arms I sing. Forget the man. there is
no other epic. Sing the arms of kids,
the ones with pustules all along their veins” (p. 100).
The longest poem, a prose poem, is “Abecedarian” that weaves together Adam and Eve and the speaker’s discovery of oral sex.  



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