Category Archives: Poetry and its forms and meanings

C.T. Salazar’s “American Cavewall Sonnets”–Or as William Blake Would Say, “Hear the Voice of the Ancient Bard,/Who Present, Past, and Future Sees…”

With cavewall sonnets, it is necessary to speak of an ancient bard or ancestral voice intoning rich, mysteriously rich and tantalizing if sometimes evasive syllables. My feeling after reading through C.T. Salazar’s book American Cavewall Sonnets several times is that I will have to live a long time with this book before I feel I really understand these poems at all as thoroughly as they deserve; but don’t understand me to be complaining. From the beckoning and lush art of the front cover–what one has come to expect from Bull City Press’s chapbooks, here the cover art being Wildstyle Still LIfe by Collin van der Sluijs–the story of the poems is one of equal lushness, richness, elliptical at some points, but a straightforward celebration and reveling in language. If you’re expecting the rhyme or meter of a traditional sonnet, don’t: though some of the lines have distinguishable meter, it is intermittent and tends to occur in first lines where it does. The main sonnet constraint (and here, in the glory of the unrestricted experiment it would be a constraint to expect a formal sonnet) is that each poem is 14 lines long, 8 lines followed by a separate 6, and in one case, a visual poem of two recurring words, even that form isn’t strictly adhered to. But trust me, if you give these poems your time and heartfelt participation, it won’t matter a jot to you if the traditional sonnet is left totally in the dust for this spell of poetry.

Thus, formally speaking, this book of poetry is not a docile housemate, though sometimes a frenzied one; it is never reallly indecorous or disrespectful, however. It respects first of all the internal distances between reader and poet, and negotiates them without rapine or plunder of the reader’s resources. What do I mean by all that? Here’s an example:

"The rifle scope was a failure indeed
of the imagination--look through there
and everthing becomes           a target."  (p. 13). 

From this, one can see that while the poet has no intention of allowing his poems to be the target, to succumb to facile interpretation, the reader is welcomed into the lovely disorder and chaos that do aim towards meanings, but multiple meanings, as toward multiple–no, not targets–but caresses of the imagination. These are gentle, yet serious touches on the reader’s arm and consciousness.

The moments of darkness are not denied, the ones that keep humans sheltering in their illusions rather than facing what confronts them. “I never talked about what I saw in the river: /the humans who drowned.” The “mosaic” of our moments of darkness and also of belief is the mosaic “made from the salvaged chips of empire.” (p. 10)

And the force of memory in this consciousness, one which the poet tries to bring the reader to expand and to share with him, takes its turn too in the book–thus not only the target has been magicked away, but time cannot lose its soul to passing, and permanence becomes conceivable as more than a dream:

"This room was no longer, so I put it
back together/I put it back in my
mind/I put it in the back of my mind....
At the end of the world I'm told
a prayer could harden into a full
moon bright enough to guide our fathers back."  (p.27)

It’s not a matter of self-deception, though. In the ellipses I have placed above, the fragility of a broken vase is mentioned, and in the following line just below, we are told: “Even a whisper can bruise.” In such a world, wherein the poet must mediate and (once again) negotiate for himself and others, Salazar positions the poet in the most human and resonant of places: in the juncture between fragility and breaking and constancy and wholeness, we are finally told, as the summation of that sonnet and the book, “love, touch me.” And that sense of trust in our human capacity amid the challenges which may overwhelm us at any moment is a sense of trust in the bond, too, the compact, between poet and reader.

Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)

Leave a comment

Filed under Poetry and its forms and meanings, poetry as bardic speech, What is literature for?

“What Pecan Light”–A New “Song of the South” Arises in Strict Self-Examination and the Protestant Confessional Tradition of Witnessing, Through the Medium of Poetry

Just this year, the editor/teacher/professional poet Dr. Hannah VanderHart has given us a monumental though deceptively short book of poetry on Southern life, thought, and tradition which belies the suggestion that a book need be long to achieve a worthwhile thesis and goal. The book is What Pecan Light. While the book goes from picture to picture of Southern life, and growing up in a family tradition of ownership of a chicken farm and farming in general, using images of food, daily habits, work forms, recreation times and religious traditions to which the South remains committed, the past with its Civil War history and history of slave-owning is never only a part of the background, but informs in its seriousness and rhetoric the whole.

The lovingly executed papier-mache in the photograph from the front cover with its mythically descended formation of human silhouettes-becoming-trees (by Rachel DiRenna) is a sort of key to the structure of the book as a whole: I too have had Southern relatives wondering what possible shape the South can take next, if it continues to change so much in its traditions and reverences, and being caught up in false notalgias, false because betraying of basic humanity.

Others such as Jessica O. Stark and Joy Katz on the book’s back cover have communicated at succinct and short length the cultural and societal aspects of this book. Though brevity is often said to be the soul of wit, sometimes a book merits greater length and remark where possible, and it is to this end that I devote myself today, while calling to the readers’ attention their deservedly appreciative remarks.

The book is one of tightly woven individual poems taking place in a loosely put-together structure which allows for visiting and revisiting, layering and relayering, of themes and motifs. The traditions and culture of the Southern United States in the states with which the poet is familiar are examined in an elliptical slide going from facts to Southern topoi and from Southern topoi to facts. “Topoi,” of course, in Greek, or “loci” in Latin, are rhetorical places, places where things happen and where facts may or may not reign. Here, the topoi are richly illustrated by Southern images and lifestyle portraits of the daily life of a family whose past is affected by the ancestors whom they have been taught to reverence, but whom more recent documents or examinations expose as flawed by slaving. This experience, when one thinks of it, is a universal experience in the sense that an appreciation of the facts portrayed and the reactions of the present-tense family committed to a more just existence are experienced by anyone who has imperfect human ancestors (which is all of us). That slavery is the issue here in this book makes it particularly rich for an American audience trying to heal the deep divides of our time, many of the roots of which are buried in older times.

VanderHart’s book is a deeply and seriously wrought picture of a family whose traditions are in the process of renovation despite their otherwise deep Southern ties, as the mother-figure in the poem teaches the newest members about the slave-owning past and the attitudes of prejudice, the practices of repression, that have been perennial in the world every time a subject people have sought freedom and self-determination. Thus, the poetic voice throughout, while not denying some degree of nostalgia but treating it both with reverence and due suspicion, makes from her own consciousness a critical voice arising from the midst of these traditions and cultural ties. She examines them both as they stand separate and apart from the greater life of the whole United States, and as they form the source of the root of Southern loyalty to the whole, where it exists.

For Southerners–and this was true in my childhood in the not-quite-South also, in West Virginia where people regularly divide themselves according to whether they have Southern loyalties of a traditional sort or Northern loyalties of the “West Virginia went with the North” sort–loyalty to the United States has in the past been first and foremost loyalty to a Southern-style home atmosphere, welfare, and traditions unless one is a social critic as for example VanderHart is here in her role as poet. Thus, this “monumental” work, as I called it once before, is a new sort of Southern monument, a Southern testament, a testifying of a religious sort, as poetry always has been, of a word structure rather than a stone or metal structure, but in the public forum just as a literal statue of a Confederate general or widow would be. And it is both long overdue for all of us, Northerners and Southerners alike, and most welcome in its overwhelming gift of a new language plinth to stand in our mutual public square.

This book is available from Bull City Press, at 1217 Odyssey Drive, Durham, NC 27713, http://www.BullCityPress.com . It is also available from Amazon.com.

Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles/reviews, lifestyle portraits, Poetry and its forms and meanings, poetry as societal witnessing, What is literature for?

When Does a Textual Riddle Seem to Have a Personality (and When Is a Person Like a “Problem in the Text?”)

In this poem from my book “Poems from the Northeast,” I consider one of my favorite moments in literary classes (and simultaneously an application of textual analysis to psychology): that moment when the professor frowns, pushes his/her/their glasses up on their nose, coughs, then says: “in this passage, there is a problem with the text.”

IN THIS PASSAGE, THERE IS A PROBLEM WITH THE TEXT
I am a problem in the text
     That has never been resolved
A hint, a monstrous suggestion
     Which cannot be confirmed
I trouble the mind that wants
     To settle like a hen over eggs
I ruffle her up, she clucks uneasily
     And pecks at where she thinks I am.
In August, I am an unexpected wind
     That hints of winter
I do not answer, I ask.
     Always I bring them to the question
With troubled faces, angry expressions;
     People clumsily resolve me
To this or that
     Proving their points with good evidence
Which they have misinterpreted.
     The pages around me
Pose no problems--
     My commentary
Is relegated to a footnote here or there,
     A short section in the appendix.
With so much else decided,
     One word or phrase cannot trouble overlong--
They forget me.
     They are happy with the story being told.
But still, inconveniently, I come back,
     I perplex, I mock without mockery;
There may be some treasure in me.
     They think I have a purpose
But they don't know what it is,
     Feeling, suspecting,
That if they did it would make
     All the difference.
And I ask,
     What difference would it make?
I am the corner you didn't turn
     When you could
And couldn't turn when you would,
     Because I too exist,
And not only for the greed and delight
     Your mind has in pictures.
I have the right to live
     Not simply as a point in space
But as myself at that point.
     Yet attack the point how you will,
When you come there
     I am gone and you know nothing.
I evaporate, I drift away
     And you can stand all day
Like a lovelorn schoolboy
     For the date who didn't show up.
You let me be at peace
     And I am with you;
You gain confidence,
     You think this means
That now you will know all--
     You chase and I evade.
You punish and I bow to punishment.
     You walk away in anger
And I go back to what I was doing.
     You have lured me to interpretation
And I have been lured,
     But more and more
I see the trap
     And am impatient with such stupidities.
You always think you know me,
     And even when it seems so,
I slide from your mind,
     And you grope
And reach for the light,
     And wonder what I meant.

Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)

Leave a comment

Filed under Literary puzzles and arguments, Poetry and its forms and meanings

Today’s the Day! “Now is the hour/Of our great content/Made uproarious self-advertisement/By this client of WordPress.”

“Wha?” say you, the innocent reader, stepping into the maelstrom of glee and self-congratulation.

Well, the misquote from Shakespeare’s Richard III above is only to confirm and announce that my 334 p. book of poems, “Poems from the Northeast,” about which I’ve been babbling for a few weeks now at least, was in fact released today, amid much hoopla by me and celebrations in a minor way.

The cat (Lucie-Minou, my heart’s darling) started it off today at 2:30 a.m., by agreeing to partake of a Fancy Feast broth to join in the day. Then, at 7:30 a.m., she had her breakfast of Fancy Feast chicken and tuna feast with all sorts of special (read: expensive) stuff in it.

Then, my mom and I ate some ice cream. And I guess, really, that wraps it up for the actual celebrating, but the mood was festive, anyway. So, just posting to let all my readers know that the book has now been released. If you’re wondering where to find it, it may be available in a lot of different places soon, but if you’re looking for a quick copy, try your local Amazon platform, the publisher’s (olympiapublishers.com), or Book Depository.

And share it with someone. Poetry is always better when shared.

All the best, and thanks for your support. Let me know your comments here, if you have any you would like to make to me directly, or if you would like to ask any questions about any of the poems you find in the book.

Namaste, Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)

Leave a comment

Filed under Full of literary ambitions!, how to order/pre-order my poetry book, Poetry and its forms and meanings, What is literature for?

Part II–“Poems from the Northeast”: A Short Reading

Dear WordPress and Twitter followers, today I offered the first part of a two-part short reading from my new book which is coming out on August 26 from Olympia Publishers, “Poems from the Northeast.” This is now the second part, assuming that the first part was something you liked and found sympathetic. So, without more ado, here goes (this part is about 16 minutes long, whereas the first was 9 minutes or so, giving you roughly 20-25 minutes total). I hope you enjoy it. Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)

Leave a comment

Filed under Full of literary ambitions!, Poetry and its forms and meanings, What is literature for?

Part I–“Poems from the Northeast”: A Short Reading

Dear WordPress and Twitter followers, I may be able to offer you here a short video from my new book (if successful, Part II to follow immediately afterwards). I’ve upgraded from http://www.creativeshadows.wordpress.com to having my own domain name, because this was the most economical way of doing two things at once, for WordPress, and for Twitter. My new domain name is: creative-shadows.com . Please enjoy both parts of the reading if you have time (for a total of 20-25 minutes). Best regards, Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)

Coincidentally (and I’m just sayin’, I mean…), I started my site with my old name of https://www.creativeshadows.wordpress.com in July of 2012. Today, when I upgraded my site, I found that someone named Paulina Steele had started a media site in 2015, named creativeshadows as well. Later than. After. I mean, were there no other good names around? Just sayin’…

Leave a comment

Filed under Full of literary ambitions!, Poetry and its forms and meanings, What is literature for?

“The Pearl”–Fawziyya Abu Khalid and Predicting the Future of Arabic Women

In the midst of so much controversy in the contemporary world about what to do to help people, both women and men, to achieve their rights and to be treated equally by their societies and fellows in those societies, it is refreshing and uplifting to read a poet who has a whole-hearted belief that things can only improve, though she is not incognizant of the problems to be faced, it is clear both from her political involvements as they are reported in her brief biography1 and the determination in the forward-looking tone of her poem, which I will comment on here (it is not possible to print the whole poem, even though it is relatively short, because it is not in the public domain. Brief quotes only are allowed.)

As we are told in the biographical paragraph itself, “Fawziyya Abu Khalid was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia [in 1955]. She studied in the United States, taking a degree in sociology, and has been teaching at the Girls’ University College of King Saud University….Her work celebrates the strength and abilities of women, as well as indicating her commitment to political concerns.”1

In her poem The Pearl, Abu Khalid compares the legacy of generations of Arabic women to the physical legacy of a pearl, handed down from grandmother to mother to her, to her own daughter (or niece, etc., it isn’t quite clear). “The three of you and this pearl/Have one thing in common,” she says, “simplicity and truth,” making the two terms one in a touching poetic figure which conquers ordinary language usage. As she predicts in her poem “The girls of Arabia will soon grow/to full stature.” She further notes that they will find their predecessor’s traces and will say “‘She has passed by this road,'” which in her view, by the end of the poem, leads to “the place of sunrise” and “the heart’s direction.”

Though this more or less fairly reports the entirety of the poem’s movement in time and space, it cannot fairly represent the poem’s delicacy and beauty, as fine as a pearl of great value itself. It is humbling to realize that even though women all over the world are still having major problems getting recognized for their contributions and accomplishments, that a woman in one of the perhaps harder places to achieve this feat is so hopeful and so full, again, of strong determination, both for herself and for others to follow her. We all should have such inspiring and leading women in our lives, and she is one not only for Arabic women, but for women of the world.

This poem can be read in its short but lovely entirety in English translation (performed by Salwa Jabsheh and John Heath-Stubbs) on page 508 in the same volume which I mentioned in my last post just above, for which, see below:

(1In this case, both the poem and my biographical data are drawn from the large compendium text of world literature which I have now had occasion to mention several times on this site: Modern Literatures of the Non-Western World: Where the Waters Are Born, edited and compiled by Jayana Clerk and Ruth Siegel, with study questions and suggestions for further research. It was published by HarperCollins College Publishers back in 1995, and is still valuable today.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles/reviews, Poetry and its forms and meanings, What is literature for?

Rabindranath Tagore and His “Gitanjali XXXV” (“Where the Mind Is Without Fear”)–A Prayer for Our Modern Country

Though I have often heard the name, Rabindranath Tagore (born Rabindranath Thakur), I have only read a smattering of his works, barely one or two. But this one I wanted to write upon today (and quote in full, as it is short and in the public domain), because it is a universal prayer for any country at any time, and especially for our country, the U.S., right now.

First, a brief biographical note, for anyone who may not be acquainted with this figure of world literature. Tagore was born in Calcutta, India, in 1861, and died in 1941. He was born into a wealthy Bengali family of scholars, religious reformers, writers, and musicians. Though he never took a full university degree, he started an experimental school in 1901 called Shantiniketan (“the abode of peace”) which was based on the ancient schools of India, conducted in the open air, because he did not find the British system of education sufficiently acceptable for his countrymen and countrywomen. It became later Visva-Bharati, an international concern stressing world peace and societal reform. He published his first poem in 1875, when he was 14, and wrote in many different genres, not only the creative (though all genres of writing are in some manner so), and provided by focusing on traditional philosophical thought a bridge between the past and the present.

For his book Gitanjali, which he wrote in Bengali but translated into English himself, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. Though the British knighted him in 1915, in 1919 he renounced the title due to the British massacre of many hundreds of people in Amritsar. He is the person who gave the title “Mahatma” (“great soul”) to Mohandas Gandhi. In 1940, he wrote Crisis in Civilization, which had an international humanitarian focus, and centered on racial equality. Both India and Bangladesh have since adopted poems of his as their national anthems. It is customary and frequent to find him quoted in world literatures, where all of his humanistic qualities are thus in the foreground of other countries.

Now, here is the poem, Song XXXV from Gitanjali:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
     Where knowledge is free;
     Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
     Where words come out from the depth of truth;
     Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
     Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand
           of dead habit;
     Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action--
     Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

While I do think that this poem is universal in its applications, for every country in every time, I cannot help but think that Americans in this time in especial, with all of our particular distresses and tensions and quarrels and discord in general, may find it uplifting and inspiring.

(My biographical data is drawn from a large compendium text of world literature which I have had occasion to mention before on this site: Modern Literatures of the Non-Western World: Where the Waters Are Born, edited and compiled by Jayana Clerk and Ruth Siegel, with study questions and suggestions for further research. It was published by HarperCollins College Publishers in 1995, and is still valuable today.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles/reviews, lifestyle portraits, Poetry and its forms and meanings

Good news, and a takedown of a page containing a novel, with interludes

Dear Readers,

Though I suppose I shouldn’t ordinarily assume that I still have readers, after having been away for so long from blogging (but I see on my statistics page that you few faithful are still reading my old posts), this morning I have taken down my novel, Dot and Charlie (A Novel About Love, Sexism, and Infidelity) because it is the source manuscript for a number of poems I wrote to insert in it, which are now going to be published separately in a poetic manuscript. This takedown is for the purpose of not violating the poetic copyright; I expect to be able to reinsert the manuscript of the novel in its entirety as soon as all matters are concluded with the publication of the poetry (3 books in 1).

This is all I have to offer for today, but it’s the start of a bright New Year, which hasn’t started off so very brightly politically here in one sense, in that there have been major disruptions and protests against lawful passage into a new presidency in Washington, D.C. recently. Still, we are all hopeful here in the U.S. that our new President Biden and Vice-President Harris and their cohorts can remedy the ills this nation has suffered, and that others who have doubted it or them will come to see that they are intending and doing well and good. As for the rest of the globe, we have to hope for it as well that it will come back to health and well-being, especially with the virus vaccines now available increasingly to so many. All the best to you remaining from the holiday seasons, and take care. I hope to let you know more when I know it, and possibly can start posting again more frequently, as soon as I finish up some of my crafting projects and have the time to read and review books again (I look forward to finding this time again before too long). Happy New Year!

Shadowoperator (Victoria L Bennett)

5 Comments

Filed under Full of literary ambitions!, Poetry and its forms and meanings, Time to pay the piper...., What is literature for?

Rupi Kaur and “The Sun and Her Flowers”–When simplicity is enough

Upon first perusing Rupi Kaur’s second book of poetry, The Sun and Her Flowers, published in 2017 hard upon the heels of her extremely successful first book, Milk and Honey (which I haven’t yet read), I was at first a little disappointed.  The complicated devices and figures I, at least, prefer to find in poetry were missing.  The poem was a long sort of prose poem of most short, declarative sentences, with a few questions strewn here and there, interspersed with clever sketches of the stages of a woman’s life.  The most complicated comparison seemed to be that of comparing people to sunflowers, which, in the titles of the various divisions of the poem, go through stages of “wilting,” “falling,” “rooting,” “rising,” and “blooming.”  That seemed at first not only too simple, but a little simple-minded.  But something kept me reading, anyway.  Perhaps it was the desire to see the “plot” fulfilled, which is one of the characteristic things analysts say drives the reading of a prose work.  I mean, given the organic governing metaphors, and the theme of “to everything a season,” a certain uplift at the end was to be expected, it was apparent.  Still, this particular evocation of the growing season had somehow become more interesting than just the generalized comparison:  she had sneaked it in on me.

As I read, I followed the poem through the delineation of a violently-inclined love affair and its end, the grief and desolation which follow the ending of even a bad love, the gradual recuperation that, if one is basically life-oriented and sensible, one tries to develop or find, the impulse toward re-growth that follows, and the also gradual rise into a new love and a community awareness of the family as a whole.  But let’s take that a little slower.  The first parts of the poem are addressed to a “you” who is a bad influence; then, gradually the “you” disappears; then it morphs into a “you” who is a sudden and surprising treasure; then, an awareness of the loves of different generations of the family develops; then, a recounting of the difficulties that migration presents even to two parents or forbears who love each other, and a detailing of the anxieties and separations they must endure for their families comes next; then, a modest gesture toward discussing the life of societal pressures and how this affects immigrants in a new country sums up the whole.  Really, by the time I finished the book, I was quite impressed with just how forcefully and completely this poetic vision had fulfilled itself, and all in a series of simple, non-capitalized, mostly unpunctuated sentences.  (Not that capitalization or punctuation are regular in poetry anyway, as a general rule, or that they are to be expected in free verse, but when one is confronted with apparent simplicity as a device, one can begin to question whether or not it’s overdone.  Happily, such was not the end result in this case.)

By this time, I was sufficiently humbled to want to read the graceful (and again, simple) biographical sketch of Rupi Kaur which takes place at the end of the book.  It was a bit vague, and I would have liked more details (which, like jewels, or buds, if one prefers to stick to the organic metaphor, were strewn throughout the summary).  Basically, the artist’s statement was that “I am the product of all the ancestors getting together and deciding these stories need to be told”).  One set of topics which I have not touched upon yet, and which the poem also dealt with in detail was female liberation from the restraints of a conventional and hidebound societal influence, and how various generations of women have achieved it.  As the blurb stated, and as I have in a general way sketched out above were:  “love, loss, trauma, healing, feminity, migration, and revolution.”  That’s just about said it all, but that’s saying a lot.

There are many different styles and kinds of poetry kicking around these days, and everyone can mostly choose for himself or herself which to pursue for edification, but if you read no other book of poetry this year, it’s at least arguable that you should read this one, which is based in technique upon the poet’s experiences in delivering performance poetry in places in Canada, her country of adoption.  After all, you can hardly go wrong with a long poem which has not only an organic metaphor governing its development, organic metaphors consistently expressing things “all flesh is heir to,” but which also describes a particular historical experience of a large group of people.  Give it a read; I think you’ll be both pleasantly surprised and greatly impressed, whatever your first impression, or your overall take on performance poetry.  As for me, at some time in the near future, I’ll be dipping into Milk and Honey by the same author, to see what word experience she started out by allowing me to immerse myself in!  Shadowoperator

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles/reviews, Poetry and its forms and meanings, What is literature for?