|Robert Duncan, 1955, in SF (Photo by Jonathan Williams)|
I first read Duncan's poetry in junior high; "My Mother Would Be a Falconress," which appears in a subsequent book, Bending the Bow (New Directions, 1968) and which was in the anthology I read in English class, is a strange, terrifying, exhilarating poem that I still remember encountering. In its mythologized yet direct, incantatory staging of the child's struggle with the parent (the child metaphorized as a falcon, the parent-mother as the falconress), it not only seemed to speak immediately to my sense of self and my peers, but also upended the very order of poetry as I was learning it. It led me, a few years later, to more of his work, which I am still reading with fascination and pleasure. Below is his poem, "Poetry, A Natural Thing," from his important 1960 collection The Opening of the Field. In this poem he takes up T.S. Eliot's idea of the poet's impersonality, while making a case for the power of language, poetic language, which is both the result of human culture and of the natural world, and for the poem itself (like the work of visual art referenced, the painting "by Stubbs," of the moose) as thusa "natural thing," a source and force of cognition, of truth. Enjoy.
POETRY, A NATURAL THING Neither our vices nor our virtues further the poem. "They came up and died just like they do every year on the rocks." The poem feeds upon thought, feeling, impulse, to breed itself, a spiritual urgency at the dark ladders leaping. This beauty is an inner persistence toward the source striving against (within) down-rushet of the river, a call we heard and answer in the lateness of the world primordial bellowings from which the youngest world might spring, salmon not in the well where the hazelnut falls but at the falls battling, inarticulate, blindly making it. This is one picture apt for the mind. A second: a moose painted by Stubbs, where last year's extravagant antlers lie on the ground. The forlorn moosey-faced poem wears new antler-buds, the same, "a little heavy, a little contrived", his only beauty, to be all moose.
Copyright © 1960 by Robert Duncan, “Poetry, a Natural Thing” from The Opening of the Field, New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1960. All rights reserved.
|Sonia Sanchez, 2011 (Photo, Phillyburbs.com)|
Legend's Ball, 2005
Michael A. Mariant, File)
I hope Sister Sonia and Beacon Press, which published the book, Morning Haiku (2010) in which these first appeared, do not get upset at me for reposting these haiku; I direct you to her website, but I also wanted to post them here as a tribute to her and Elizabeth Catlett, two artists whose works, in art, politics, culture, and life, like Duncan's, have blazed the way for those who follow. Here are her haiku, preceded by her note to Elizabeth Catlett. One thing Sister Sonia does in these poems is give a sense of the swift movement, the vibrancy, of Catlett's sculpting, as the materiality of the words themselves take sculptural shape on the page (or here, screen). Together the 6 haiku create a sculptural form as firm as the flesh, as fluid as the wind, before our eyes.
“In loving memory of a great woman. You will be missed. It was an honor to walk on this earth with you.” —Sonia Sanchez 6 haiku (for Elizabeth Catlett in Cuernavaca) 1. La Señora making us remember flesh and wind 2. O how you help us catch each other’s breath 3. a woman’s arms climbing with colored dreams 4. Elizabeth slides into the pool hands kissing the water 5. i pick up your breath and remember me 6. your hands humming hurricanes of beauty.
Copyright © Sonia Sanchez, "6 haiku (for Elizabeth Catlett in Cuernavaca)", from Morning Haiku, Boston: Beacon Press, 2010. All rights reserved.