Parisian Literary Salon

creating community through reading and discussing literature

3 Poems– A Petite Salon

for March 2011

I am considering works by Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman and perhaps Sylvia Plath or Joseph Brodsky–thinking about what poets might sing together. A three hour intensive study that would allow us to get our hands around a few works…

Three poems and preparation notes for the evening workshop May 11th, 2009
Dragonfly Organic Cafe in Highgate

…Poetry arrived

In search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where

It came from, from winter or a river.

I don’t know how or when…

–Pablo Neruda

Our study will include(as time allows):

Sestina by Elizabeth Bishop

Birches by Robert Frost
The Cord by LeAnne O’Sullivan

Some thoughts entering in….

Hello Poetry folks-

I am really looking forward to our playing with words together. I am hopeful you will be able to read through each poem a few times- even on the tube as you come- and jot down your thoughts, questions, responses- even if this looks like a list of question marks in the margins. In other words, start your conversation with the poem by recording your responses to the words. Of course we will start- after brief introductions- with hearing each poem read aloud. This is necessary for our first step in- what does the poem say? Please bring your copies of the poems with you so you have the words before you as we play with them.

A bit about Robert Frost… and the art of poetry as he perceives it…
Robert Frost is often characterized as a regional writer. He certainly draws upon the landscape and culture of New England for much of his work and therefore is frequently seen as a ‘folksy’ writer. “Birches” is typical in the body of his work- directly addressing the natural world and its wonder but also explores the metaphysical tensions that permeate even his nature poems.

I found this reflection interesting:

Whatever theme is encountered in a poem by Frost, a reader is likely to agree with him that “the initial delight is in the surprise of remembering something I didn’t know.” To achieve that fresh sense of discovery, Frost allowed himself to follow his instincts; his poetry inclines to the impulse, it assumes direction with the first line laid down, it runs a course of lucky events, and ends in a clarification of life–not necessarily a great clarification, such as sects and cults are founded on, but in a momentary stay against confusion.

This description from Frost’s essay, “The Figure a Poem Makes”, may sound as if his poetry is formless and merely “lucky” but his poems tend to be more conventional than experimental: “The artist in me,” as he put the matter in one of his poems, “cries out for design.”

From Poetry by Michael Meyer

Frost’s use of DESIGN (he has a poem with that title that I might just have to send out to you) gets at one of poetry’s primary aspects: how the construction of the thing weaves into its meaning.

See you in the pages-


The Cord
Leanne O’Sullivan
I used to lie on the floor for hours after
school with the phone cradled between
my shoulder and my ear, a plate of cold
rice to my left, my school books to my right.
Twirling the cord between my fingers
I spoke to friends who recognized the
language of our realm. Throats and lungs
swollen, we talked into the heart of the night,
toying with the idea of hair dye and suicide,
about the boys who didn’t love us,
who we loved too much, the pang
of the nights. Each sentence was
new territory, like a door someone was
rushing into, the glass shattering
with delirium, with knowledge and fear.
My Mother never complained about the phone bill,
what it cost for her daughter to disappear
behind a door, watching the cord
stretching its muscle away from her.
Perhaps she thought it was the only way
she could reach me, sending me away
to speak in the underworld.
As long as I was speaking
she could put my ear to the tenuous earth
and allow me to listen, to decipher.
And these were the elements of my Mother,
the earthed wire, the burning cable,
as if she flowed into the room with
me to somehow say, Stay where I can reach you,
the dim room, the dark earth. Speak of this
and when you feel removed from it
I will pull the cord and take you
back towards me.

From Waiting for My Clothes, 2004
Bloodaxe Books

Sestina by Elizabeth Bishop
September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother
sits in the kitchen with the child
beside the Little Marvel Stove,
reading the jokes from the almanac,
laughing and talking to hide her tears.

She thinks that her equinoctial tears
and the rain that beats on the roof of the house
were both foretold by the almanac,
but only known to a grandmother.
The iron kettle sings on the stove.
She cuts some bread and says to the child,

It’s time for tea now; but the child
is watching the teakettle’s small hard tears
dance like mad on the hot black stove,
the way the rain must dance on the house.
Tidying up, the old grandmother
hangs up the clever almanac

on its string. Birdlike, the almanac
hovers half open above the child,
hovers above the old grandmother
and her teacup full of dark brown tears.
She shivers and says she thinks the house
feels chilly, and puts more wood in the stove.

It was to be, says the Marvel Stove.
I know what I know, says the almanac.
With crayons the child draws a rigid house
and a winding pathway. Then the child
puts in a man with buttons like tears
and shows it proudly to the grandmother.

But secretly, while the grandmother
busies herself about the stove,
the little moons fall down like tears
from between the pages of the almanac
into the flower bed the child
has carefully placed in the front of the house.

Time to plant tears, says the almanac.
The grandmother sings to the marvelous stove
and the child draws another inscrutable house.

Robert Frost
WHEN I see birches bend to left and right
Across the line of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay.
Ice-storms do that. Often you must have seen them 5

Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells 10

Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust?
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed 15

So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun. 20

But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
(Now am I free to be poetical?)
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows? 25

Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father’s trees
By riding them down over and over again 30

Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away 35

Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish, 40

Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches;
And so I dream of going back to be.
It’s when I’m weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood 45

Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.
I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over. 50

May no fate wilfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree, 55

And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches. 60