Sunday, February 10, 2019

Poet Pairings: Alicia Ostriker and Peter Campion

For the past week, I have been making final edits on my essay, "Metaphor and Love in the Poetry of Alicia Ostriker," that will be published soon on the companion website to the University of Michigan's recent collection of essays, reflections, and interviews about Alicia Ostriker's capacious and virtuosic body of work, Everywoman Her Own Theology: On the Poetry of Alicia Suskin Ostriker. [Editor's note: the essay is now published and can be accessed HERE]. In it I cite an excerpt from a letter to the editor of Poetry, published in the December 2009 issue, wherein Campion states what he means by "metaphorical sense." Upon re-reading the letter, I immediately knew that my next blog post would pair Ostriker with Campion. Here is the quote:  

By "metaphorical sense" I mean a type of inventiveness that can appear even when metaphor seems absent. It's not merely a knack for crafting comparisons without "like" or "as," but the ability to establish far-reaching connections, as well as disjunctions, in examine and re-examine motifs [that] begin to constellate a whole climate of thought and feeling as amplitudinous as any symbol system. Metaphorical sense always implies the vision of a larger shape of being (228-229).

The work of many poets "implies the vision of a larger shape of being." But no two poets have "metaphorical sensibilities" that are more acute, more overlapping, and more comprehensive than Ostriker and Campion. Even though Ostriker's body of work spans more than six decades, and Campion has only been alive for barely four, these two poets seem to be speaking to one another, particularly when they write about metaphor. (Ostriker says in her "Eros and Metaphor" that metaphor "is what language uses to show that the world is full on connections.") Let's "listen in" to the conversation that takes place between two of their poems.


Ambition. Jealousy. Adrenaline.
The fear that loneliness is punishment
and that corrosive feeling draining down
the chest the natural and just result
of failures. . . . What delicious leisure not
to feel it. What sweet reprieve to linger
here with these ovals of purple and flamingo
plumed from the tree or splayed on pavement.
If only for these seconds before returning
to the open air those flowers keep
pushing out of themselves to die inside.

Peter Campion, from The Lions (The University of Chicago Press, 2009)

Middle-Aged Woman at a Pond

The first of June, grasses already tall
In which I lie with a book. All afternoon a cardinal
Has thrown the darts of his song.

One lozenge of sun remains on the pond,
The high crowns of the beeches have been transformed
By a stinging honey. Tell me, I think.

Frogspawn floats in its translucent sacs.
Tadpoles rehearse their crawls.
Here come the black flies now,

And now the peepers. This is the nectar
In the bottom of the cup,
This blissfulness in which I strip and dive.

Let my questions stand unsolved
Like trees around a pond. Waters's cold lick
Is a response. I swim across the ring of it.

Alicia Ostriker, from The Crack in Everything (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1996)


Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Poet Pairings: Melissa Stein & Maw Shein Win

Last September I had the pleasure of hearing Melissa Stein and Maw Shein Win read poetry together at Rebound Bookstore in San Rafael, California. Toni and Joel Eis always are the consummate hosts at their poetry readings. They provide the quality refreshments--really good wine and cheese and, according to the season, other goodies. They give all of the proceeds from books sales to the authors. And they will rent their bookstore anytime for a modest price, if you want to schedule a reading outside of their ongoing series. In addition, they will take local authors' books on consignment. Rebound Bookstore is worthy of support.

I had heard Melissa Stein read before, and so I was excited to attend this reading. I hadn't heard Maw Shein Win. I was very pleasantly surprised. Usually when two poets read, one is far superior to the other. Melissa and Maw complemented one another beautifully. And they did something that I want to expand on in this post: they spent part of their reading time alternating poems from their latest books--Stein's Terrible Blooms (Copper Canyon, 2018), and Win's Invisible Gifts (Manic D Press, 2018). The result was an answer and call performance that was superb. I don't remember what poems they paired together, but I liked the idea so much that I wanted to introduce the idea to you, as a regular feature of this blog. And I can't think of two more appropriate poets for my first such post than Melissa Stein and Maw Stein Win.

Before I share a poem from each of their two books that I think pair nicely, I want to apologize to them both for such a brief treatment of their work. Due to deadlines with other writing projects, I am writing a short post this week. Be assured that in the near future I will post complete reviews of each of these books. For now, enjoy a teaser--a tasting of their books, if you will, with a poem from each.

The opening poem to Stein's Terrible Blooms:


If you're going to storm,
I said, do it harder.
Pummel nests from limbs
and drown the furred things
in their dens. Swell creek
to flood, unhome the fish.
Everything's gone too cozy.
Winnow, flush. Let's see
what's got the will.
Let's watch what's tender
choke or breathe. Try
to make a mark on me.

And then a poem midway into Win's Invisible Gifts:

The Indexing of Sensation

Jean comes into the library and passes wildflowers into my hands.
Put these in water, darling, and have a brilliant day.
I push the cart down the carpeted aisle.
The repetition of movement is a meditation.

The Art of Benin, Paula Ben-Amos                    N7397N5C5

Anno's Counting Book, Mitsumasa Anno          PZ7A5875

The Forgotten Ones, Milton Rogovin               TP820.5R64

The Balloon--A Bicentennial Exhibition           TL615B34

Maps of countries that don't exist anymore.
The archiving of fantasies.
The referencing of systems.
The indexing of sensation.

Melissa Stein is the author of the poetry collections Terrible Blooms (Copper Canyon Press, 2018) and Rough Honey, winner of the 2010 APR/Honickman First Book Prize, selected by Mark Doty. Her poems have appeared in Ploughshares, American Poetry Review, Tin House, The Southern Review, New England Review, Best New PoetsBeloit Poetry Review, Harvard Review, and North American Review, among others.

Maw Stein Win is a Burmese American poet, editor, and educator. In addition to the full-length poetry collection, Invisible Gifts, she is the author of two chapbooks, Ruins of a glittering palace and Score and Bone. Her writing has appeared in many literary journals and anthologies, including Cimarron Review, Poetry International, and Fanzine, among others. She frequently collaborates with artists, musicians, and other writers.