Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Poetry Countdown: Women's History Month #6

In addition to this being our 100th post, this also marks the conclusion of the first half of our Women's History Month Poetry Countdown. So far, we've honored five of the greatest poets in history (in my humble opinion), regardless of gender. Just to recap:

#10 -- Lucille Clifton
# 9 -- Marianne Moore
# 8 -- Lorine Niedecker
# 7 -- Qiu Jin

Now I bring you my #6 poet in the countdown--Louise Bogan. Let me start by saying that I'm a free verse kinda guy. Meter and rhyme often get in the way of my enjoyment of a poem. I'm not saying I dislike all lyric poetry, but it's certainly not my favorite.

Louise Bogan, however, used meter and rhyme (often in complicated ways) very often in her poetry. But it seems to be done in a way that differs from classical 18th and 19th century poets. It seems much more modern to me. I'm not enough of a scholar to be able to explain it any better than that, so hopefully that makes sense.

Take a look at "A Tale" and maybe you'll see what I mean:

This youth too long has heard the break
Of waters in a land of change.
He goes to see what suns can make
From soil more indurate and strange.

He cuts what holds his days together
And shuts him in, as lock on lock:
The arrowed vane announcing weather,
The tripping racket of a clock;

Seeking, I think, a light that waits
Still as a lamp upon a shelf, —
A land with hills like rocky gates
Where no sea leaps upon itself.

Read the rest of this poem here. The Poetry Foundation also has Learning Lab Activities and discussion questions for this poem for all you teachers out there.

Her poems are often very romantic and include passionate, emotional descriptions of relationships and heartbreak. This isn't usually my thing either. But Bogan is such a skilled poet, I become lost in her poems, completely forgetting that poems like this usually aren't my thing.

Here's a great example of this, "Juan's Song:"

When beauty breaks and falls asunder   
I feel no grief for it, but wonder.
When love, like a frail shell, lies broken,   
I keep no chip of it for token.
I never had a man for friend
Who did not know that love must end.   
I never had a girl for lover
Who could discern when love was over.   
What the wise doubt, the fool believes—
Who is it, then, that love deceives?

And finally, bringing it back to the rhyme and meter--I'm not the best at marking up poems with accents and feet and I hardly know a trochee from an iamb or tetrameter from pentameter. But I do know that Bogan does some unique things and I'm left puzzling over her poems, trying to read them correctly. With some I get caught up in the pleasure of decoding them and hunting for the rhyme scheme and the pattern in the meter. Maybe this is just because I don't know how to read a poem correctly. Either way, I enjoy it, especially in a poem like "Song for the Last Act:"

Now that I have your face by heart, I look   
Less at its features than its darkening frame   
Where quince and melon, yellow as young flame,   
Lie with quilled dahlias and the shepherd’s crook.   
Beyond, a garden. There, in insolent ease
The lead and marble figures watch the show   
Of yet another summer loath to go
Although the scythes hang in the apple trees.

Now that I have your face by heart, I look.

Read the remaining stanzas here.

Hopefully Louise Bogan's poetry appeals to you as much as it does to me. You might also enjoy these poems:

Keep checking back here for the top half of our countdown, which will wrap up March 31st with our number one female poet of all time!

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