Sunday, March 8, 2015

Poetry Monday: James Schuyler (and PoemTalk)

You never really master or finish with a good poem.  I’m not talking about the writing of poetry, which is another blogpost entirely.  Reading poetry is an ongoing process.  Good poems always beg to be read again.  Though there’s nothing quite like reading a poem in that silent one-on-one space, I also really enjoy the way a close reading in a group setting can open out a poem, unpack it, and provide new insights as the group members riff off one another. It becomes a whole new reading. Jacket2’s PoemTalk is a great way to experience a poem.  These relatively short podcasts make you feel like you’re part of the discussion circle as the participants chat about and work through a single poem in a way that somehow manages to be casual and light, and still rigorous.  The latest episode focuses on James Schuyler’s “February”, a poem I came across many years ago and had forgotten.  Finding it again at my favourite podcast, illuminated by such warm and intelligent poets and teachers, has been like finding a piece of myself I put aside.

The podcast begins with Schuyler’s own reading followed by a discussion with Erica Kaufman, Bernadette Mayer, Al Filreis, and Julia Bloch.  Here’s a little sample of “February", which shows the delicacy of the poem and the way it “paints” a very visual scene of light and colour on the last day of a New York City winter:
The green leaves of the tulips on my desk
like grass light on flesh,
and a green-copper steeple
and streaks of cloud beginning to glow.
I can't get over
how it all works in together
In the podcast the group talk of how this poem gives us access to something private, something very ordinary that we might see every day, and puts it in a new extraordinary light.  For me, I feel that this poem, even with its very conversational language (the “language of cats and dogs” as Bernadette Meyer - I think - put it), is suffused with nostalgia.  Perhaps that’s because the moment of this perception is already gone.  The NY that Schuyler writes about is already a different place, and the awareness of this loss seems to underpin the delicacy of the language and the more immediate joy of the poet’s vision.  Or maybe it’s just me and my ongoing sense of nostalgia for the city I grew up in.  You can read the full poem here:  
For lots more of Schuyler’s work, visit:
And do please, just for your own pleasure, visit PoemTalk and spend a little while procrastinating in the most delightful of ways.  

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