Friday, June 11, 2010

What Can I Do For You?

What The Living Do by Marie Howe is a cool book of poems, read by me yesterday, written by her years ago (Copyright 1998), what took me so long?!

Good examples of the "coolness": The second section, with nearly every poem about her now dead brother, kept hitting me and hitting me. She wouldn't stop showing me her brother alive, then dying, then dead.

I thought to myself, this could be called "What The Living Did."

In fiction class, I learned that getting to know the before of a character helps make the after, the change, even more impactful.

Howe's before in the poems show her brother living, taking apart chandeliers, talking to her about life, about Faulkner, about death.

When death is the after, this rule seems to get heavier. Here I am, reading these poems about Howe's brother, her capturing his restlessness in life, his calm in the face of death, and I know this whole time he is dead.

I've told at least one person that poems capture me if they are 1) full of energy and 2) live within the realm of affection.

These poems, especially in this section, work for me because they are full of the living energy, showcased and hanging in front of me, but the affection is underlined in Howe telling me all this now, as her brother is dead.

Check this out from "How Some of It Happened":
My brother was aftraid, even as a boy, of going blind--so deeply
that he would turn the dinner knives away from, looking at him,

he said, as they lay on the kitchen table.
He would throw a sweatshirt over those knobs that lock the car door

from the inside, and once, he dismantled a chandelier in the middle
of the night when everyone was sleeping.

We found the pile of sharp shining crystals in the upstairs hall.
So you understand, it was terrible

when they clamped his one eye open and put the needle in through
his cheek
and up into his eye from underneath

and left it there for a full minute before they drew it slowly out
once a week for many weeks. He learned to, lean into it,

to settle down he said, and still the eye went dead, ulcerated,
breaking up green in his head, as the other eye, still blue

and wide open, looked and looked at the clock.

The image of the brother leaning into it, settling down is AWESOME. Clap, metaphor, clap.

This, as evidenced by the title, is just some of it. Woah.

The subtle affection here, like who cares about a dismantled chandelier, he was alive.

Oh and check out this ending:

-One day it happens: what you have feared all your life,
the unendurably specific, the exact thing. No matter what you say or do.

This is what my brother said: Here, sit closer to the bed
so I can see you.

Is there a humor here? I can't handle humor right now.

But really, there is determination, facing fears, death coming, but still energy. I can't handle those things either right now.

Let's move on to other poems.

I'm reminded of a sentence from the Mark Halliday essay I just read tonight "Pushcart Hopes and Dreams."

He says, "Good poems impose responsibility on the reader; we are asked to rise to their occasion."

"I'm here, Marie Howe, make me responsible, make me rise to the occasion," I said.

Look at the beginning of this poem "Practicing":
I want to write a love poem for the girls I kissed in seventh grade,
a song for what we did on the floor in the basement

of somebody's parents house, a hymn for what we didn't say but thought:
That feels good or I like that, when we learned how to open each other's

I remember being affection. I remember not knowing what to do with my body.

The line break after "each other's" startled me. Just saying.

In these poems, in most of Howe's poems in this book, the reader is asked to listen, to watch, to not judge, but just be responsible as an observer, a holder of these images.


I had a friend recently say something about one of his own poems as not needing to be written, as if the world doesn't need what he had to say in that particular poem.

I'm not sure how that plays into this discussion of Howe, but I remembered that. It was a humble thought.

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