Thursday, December 2, 2010

Extracts: Ghazals and Kitchen Poems

After the last post showing autumn photos I took in Central Park, I thought I'd skip ahead in the seasons and talk about some Spring Ghazals.

The Spring Ghazals is a book of poetry by Jack Hayes. I thought it fitting to talk about the book as part of the 'Extracts' series because as I read through it there were a lot of lines that jumped out, like this verse from the poem "distance equals rate times time":
I have nothing to say about the white cirrus clouds as they canoed
over the motley sky in a distant Vermont October...

There are many moments like this in the book, where I've never seen something described a certain way (like clouds that canoe) or in another poem, "Ghazal 4/29" where he describes "smothered velvet air" - but when I read it I think of course (why hasn't anyone else described it just this way?), I see exactly what he's saying. And not just seeing it either, because any given image like that stirs up multiple senses (spirit and motion and shape, texture), so you have a "cow pond exhaling smoke" in the poem "January Morning", "an aimless magnolia morning" in "Ghazal 5/3", and "the pipe smoke's choking sweetness dispelled thru the trellis" (this one again from "Ghazal 4/29").

Poems echo in other poems in this collection. That "choking sweetness" of the pipe takes on another form in the poem "song my father taught me":
dented & heavy he fished in black pools
where perch swirled yellow the sawdust's choking sweetness

in his workshop under the bandsaw's gray evening whirr...

(This workshop also emerges in "Ghazal 4/27".)

One poem can blend various places and points in time, which mix together but remain distinct too. Different memories lap at each other, impressions hitch onto other impressions. You never know where a poem will take you.

I think a lot of this comes out in the section called Kitchen Poems. There you'll find several poems with foods as their titles (like "French Toast", "Greek Salad", "Strawberry Rhubarb Pie", etc.) These poems blend together cooking, music, life, a roving mind examining its memories and sensory impressions, and it often struck me that the cooking (or food preparation) process shaped the poem itself. Like with "Greek Salad", the memories in the poem feel like ingredients thrown into a bowl chopped (they come across that way in the reading and rhythm). In "French Toast" things seem to melt together more, amid butter, yellow and gold, and the toast itself is described at the end as being "light amber like a window - the golden crust this morning/is everyone's sweet eggshell heartache"; the food is a window opening to the world (and it gives the poem a sense of expanding out). "Strawberry Rhubarb Pie" gave me the impression of someone sitting alone savoring what might be the last sweet wholesome thing he'll eat (maybe ever, maybe only for another long while); he wants to savor each forkful that must go the way of other forkfuls and disappear - maybe like those tunes he mentions:
... not to mention a
tune you hear dreaming you can even hum it
you wake up the tune is lost inside yourself

As with other poems, there are beautiful synesthetic associations, between tasting and listening to music for instance or music and the color of sky (and potatoes) in "Potato Salad": "The sky, too, needs to be white, not exactly an oboe awash in Debussy but maybe a clarinet basking in a Hoagy Carmichael chromatic progression..."

And there are moments where something seems to swim out of the words and reach into you and wrench you.

There's a lot of beauty in these poems.