Wednesday, January 7, 2009

apres-holiday three-way, pt. 1

As I return to a nog-less mindset and clarity after the holidays, I've immersed myself in reading about poetic craft in order to overcome the holiday-induced lull in my writing. Nothing jumpstarts the creative process for me more than reading poetry analysis. I will also be attending the Associated Writers & Writers' Programs (AWP) conference in Chicago soon, and my mind needs a bit of tuning to the topic of poetic craft beforehand.

I've been picking through Best Words Best Order by Stephen Dobyns and Real Sofistikashun by Tony Hoagland-- two collections of essays, I now realize, I should have purchased the minute they came into print.

These two collections offer two different, but similar, ways of approaching a poem. I'd like to bring these two approaches to the same poem, a poem that Hoagland discusses in his essay, "Altitudes, a Homemade Taxonomy." It is a poem I'd never read before, written by a poet, Paul Goodman, with whom I was previously unfamiliar. I am thankful for Mr. Hoagland's introduction to both. Here is "Birthday Cake" in its entirety:

Birthday Cake

Now isn't it time
when the candles on the icing
are one two too many
too many to blow out
too many to count too many
isn't it time to give up this ritual?

although the fiery crown
fluttering on the chocolate
and through the darkened room advancing
is still the most loveliest sight
among our savage folk
that have few festivals.

But the thicket is too hot and thick
and isn't it time, isn't it time
when the fires are too many
to eat the fire and not the cake
and drip the fires from my teeth
as once I had my hot hot youth.

In pt. 2 of this posting, I will summarize what Hoagland has to say about the poem in discussing his three "altitudes". In pt. 3, I will summarize Dobyns's approach, who understands a poem to be an emotional-intellectual-physical construct. I will apply his approach to "Birthday Cake" and, in doing so, provide an alternative way of reading "Birthday Cake."

In these three blog entries, I hope to relay how complementary, in general, the two approaches to reading poetry are while, at the same time, showing how each offer a different perspective in perceiving the same poetic gem.

More importantly, though, I want to approach the poem from different perspectives for the same reason you have sex using different sexual positions-- solely for pleasure's sake. I want to get under the poem's skin and, in doing so, become one with it as much as humanly possible.

Like Hoagland, I think it's a pretty extraordinary 18 lines. My birthday's coming up, too, so there's some personal proximity to its theme. But really, I think the poem just fucking rocks, and I'm eager to understand why exactly this is and share this understanding with anyone who cares to listen.

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