Posts Tagged ‘tone


Andrew Kozma’s City of Regret (2007)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 11, which was published circa January 2009.


Andrew Kozma's – City of RegretWho is Zone 3 Press? I didn’t know until I received review copies of their two newest books: Andrew Kozma’s City of Regret and Anne Couch’s Houses Fly Away [review to appear in few days]. So I emailed the press to find out who they are. They responded, “We’ve been publishing poetry books for a year and a half now, and we are hooked.” No wonder they are hooked; these last two books are wonderful. Welcome Zone 3 Press.

Now to the book. Or at least one word in this book. I want to see if I can talk about City of Regret by talking about “death” in the poem “That We May Find Ourselves at Death.” In the last line, “That time was death’s time. We had not known it”, death usurps time of its force and presence in the poem, but also metrically. In the first line, “death” is a stressed and long syllable, “When you are late for death, where do you go instead?” And in fact, “late” might even have slightly more stress than “death” in this line. The metrical tension is established; though the qualitative (stressed) meter for rest of the poem keeps pace with the tone. It’s in the quantitative (length) rhythms that the action happens; it’s where the vowels are working the tone – or as Ezra Pound says, “Pay attention to the tone leading of vowels.” The long vowels in this poem, and others in City of Regret, are creating the tone. So read the last line. Above the line is qualitative meter scansion and below the quantitative scansion (/=stress, X=heavy stress, — = long, and u = unstressed or short):

Kozma scansion

We can now see what we hear and how it works. The first half of the line has four long syllables and one short syllable. The second has one long syllable and four short syllables. The “known” is a long and stressed syllable and echoes in the ear when we hear “it” and after, which may be the point of the poem and the book: what is known and unknown?

Back to the last line’s “death.” You’ll have to read the whole poem to hear this, but this “death” is the strongest stressed syllable in the poem. It not only usurps the strength and significance of the preceding long and stressed “time,” but it overshadows the following shorter (though long) and unstressed “time,” as if time is cowering to death. How often, in all of the poems you have read, is “time” unstressed? Rarely. Because of this constant stressing of “time” through the history of poetry and the unstressing here, a decoupling, of sorts, is created between “death” and “time, ” which are often coupled and usually stressed. But a new coupling is made between “death” and “known,” where “known” becomes strong in the second half of the line because of the quick unstressed syllables surrounding it. Death is the unknown, but here they come together to hopefully answer the title, “That We May Find Ourselves at Death” – the poem in the ear suggests yes. We can/do find ourselves at death. The following poem confirms this. My point is shouldn’t every poem put meaning in the ear? The ear hears and understands the poem before any other part of the body, like Aristotelian energia. I say yes, and yes to City of Regret.//




Kozma, Andrew. City of Regret. Clarksville, TN: Zone 3 Press, 2007.//


W. S. Merwin’s The Shadow of Sirius (2008)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 11, which was published circa January 2009.


W. S. Merwin's – The Shadow of SiriusDoes W. S. Merwin’s newest book, The Shadow of Sirius (Copper Canyon Press), need a review from me  . . . a mortal? Probably not, but not for the reasons you might think. Quite often in this book I think Merwin transcends time, and he succeeds in actually yoking together his whole life:

   that I would descend some years later
   and recognize it
   there we were all together
   one time                    			
                                             (“Europe,” 28)

The now, the past, and the present become one, not just because he says so, but because you can feel it through his use of verbs. He uses simple verbs like “is,” “was,” and “will be” in a complicated reflective-visionary-staring-into-the-now manner and in an easy to read manner, and those two modes, in part, create this timeless effect.

To a larger extent, Merwin continues to write to the large past and the large future and the large present of poets – he talks to them all simultaneously, which may be even easier than yoking together his life.

Oh, there’s obviously more to this book than time, his time, and humanity’s time. There is his new experimentation with line breaks, which has subtle and interesting effects on the Merwinian tone. This undertaking is much like an older John Coltrane experimenting with bending notes in a Seattle concert, but it is easier on the ears. Yes, there’s much more than time and line breaks, like words:

   apparently we believe
   in the words
   and through them
   but we long beyond them
   for what is unseen
   what remains out of reach
   what is kept covered      		
                                        (“Raiment,” 26-7)

Yes, Merwin is still relevant, strong, and uncovering more great poetry for us.//




Merwin, W. S. The Shadow of Sirius. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2008.//


W. S. Merwin’s Migration: New & Selected Poems (2005)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 6/7, which was published circa mid-2006.


W. S. Merwin's – MigrationAt last, I have found it. I have found the one book that I want with me on the deserted island where I am stranded forever — W. S. Merwin’s Migration: New & Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press). Migration, singular, because, as Merwin wrote on postcard to me, “each of us is alone.”

But why this book for the deserted island? Because, in part, this selection of poems has substance. In fact, the selections are such that a reader can actually get a genuine, though not complete, feel of each book from which the poems were pulled. You can almost sense Merwin in his entirety. For me, I can, for my life time on the deserted island, be enamored by the poems giving something that is present, but that may not actually be there, or by the noting of the presence of an absence. I can feel the breathless continuation of intimate detail, not unlike book two of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which Merwin also translated.

I can read & re-read “The Mountain,” which is what I want to talk about here. This is my favorite poem that has not failed to stimulate me in my numerous readings & listenings to it. (And if you are lucky enough to find W. S. Merwin: Reading a Selection of His Poetry (a CD from Copper Canyon Press), get it. You will hear more clearly & crisply the pauses, the tonal shifts, and the syntax of Merwin’s mind.)

And it is in “The Mountain,” a poem from very early in Merwin’s career, where I can hear Merwin begin to develop. It is from this poem where I can find a base for Merwin’s perceptions & thinkings – that is, either we can perceive a part of something from close proximity, or we can perceive the whole but only from a distance too far away, where we cannot see it. Consider these lines from “The Mountain”:

                  It is believed that if one could see it 
   Whole, its shape might make this clearer, but that 
   Is impossible, for at the distance at which in theory 
   One could see it all, it would be out of sight.

And notice the interjection – “at which in theory / One could see it all” – delays the completion of the thought, but not without regard to the thought, for here the momentum slows, the tone lowers, & Merwin produces another moment, where none could be anticipated, a momentary stay against confusion within the momentary stay. And he gives us the possibility of seeing the Mountain in its fullness but only to realize that one could not see the mountain, for it would lose its “slope,” its dignity from the point at which one could see it all.

And then consider this line from later in “The Mountain,” “Shadows are not without substance.” Can you hear what poem that is calling up? Merwin’s “The Last One” (among others, I suppose). Can you hear how it presents the thing without matter & gives it matter — a substantiality? And its from here I can make a leap into the understanding of a maturer Merwin, who does not use punctuation. He has said he does not use punctuation because “the mind does not think in punctuation.” For Merwin, it seems, the poem is never more than an extension of syntax. But the syntax is there, despite its absence – you can hear it, you breathe it. By not using punctuation, by the use of caesuras & line breaks, he creates a punctuation we readily understand. I think, for Merwin, that punctuation puts an anchor on the imagination. (I know it does for me.) The punctuation limits the presentation of the whole, limits the imagination in intimate connection. The punctuation creates a relationship that is either too close or too far; without the punctuation, the imagination can wrap around what it perceives — at least more fully. It can bend language into perception instead of compromising perception for language. But consider these punctuated lines from “The Mountain.”

   Only on the rarest of occasions, when the blue air, 
   Though clear, is not too blinding (as, say 
   For a particular moment just at dusk in autumn) 
   Or if the clouds should part suddenly 
   Between freshets in spring, can one trace the rising 
   Slopes high enough to call them contours; and even 
   More rarely see above the tree line. Then 
   It is with almost a shock that one recognizes 
   What supposedly one had known always: 
   That it is, in fact, a mountain, not merely 
   This restrictive sense of nothing level, of never 
   Being able to go anywhere 
   But up or down, until is seems probable 
   Sometimes that the slope, to be so elusive 
   And yet so inescapable, must be nothing 
   But ourselves; that we have grown with one 
   Foot shorter than the other, and would deform 
   The levelest habitat to our misshapen 

Read “punctuation” or “standard-English syntax” in place of “clouds”, then perhaps you will see what I am suggesting above. Now consider:

                        Of course to each of us 
   Privately, its chief difference from its peers 
   Rests not even in its centrality, but its 
   Strangeness composed of our own intimacy 
   With a part of it, our necessary 
   Ignorance of its limits, and diurnal pretense 
   That what we see of it is all.

(Notice that beautiful pause between “its” & “Strangeness”.) I think it is in this poem that Merwin begins to break through, & is telling himself on some level that he can’t see it all unless he cleanses his lens of perception from standard-English syntax. But Merwin can see it all (or at least more than us) – he can be intimate, & you can be intimate with Merwin in your alone reading of Migration: New & Selected Poems – an experience of meeting Merwin when he is not there, even though he is. //




Merwin, W. S. Migration: New & Selected Poems. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2005.//


Gregory Orr’s Concerning the Book That Is the Body of the Beloved (2005)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 6/7, which was published circa mid-2006.


Gregory Orr's – Concerning the BookThis book should be on every poet’s bedside like a bible. It’s a bible of poetry. It’s a bible of what poetry is, what love is, & how to live. And it’s beautiful. And it’s tones are so caring & sincere & helping – filled with care & love. And the poems are short, mostly a page long, for each poem is a burst of understanding & vision, but they move slow when I read them, but seem to have only taken a brief moment to have read when I’ve finished, & then a dizziness arrives wondering if I just read one poem or two or three poems. The poems obliterate time, & sing humanity & love. The book is a bible for poets because it reminds us of what poetry is & does, & shows us that there is no separation between persons, love, & poetry, for they are all in unison, all one – hence the title of Gregory Orr’s book Concerning the Book That Is the Body of the Beloved (Copper Canyon Press).

But instead of talking about the content, I’m going to talk about how Concerning makes the content work. The tone of the poems arrives early: from early lines in Concerning’s prefatory poem — “Resurrection of the body of the beloved, / Which is the world. / […] / That death not be oblivion.”; from lines in the opening poem —

   The beloved is dead. Limbs 
   And all the body’s 
   Miraculous parts 
   Scattered [...] 

   We must find them, gather 
   Them together, bring them 
   Into a single place [...] 

                           a book 
   Which is the body of the beloved, 
   Which is the world.

And in the third stanza from the following poem on page 10:

   The shape of the Book 
   Is the door to the grave, 
   Is the shape of the stone 
   Closed over us, so that 
   We may know terror 
   Is what we pass through 
   To reach hope, and courage 
   Is our necessary companion.

And a few more lines in the next poem beginning “When I open the Book” (p 11) & lines from the poem “Sadness is there, too” (p 13).

(Note: these poems do not have titles.) And the tones of sadness with hope are carried in waves throughout Concerning & ride the other tonal waves – harmonic tonalities, but I’ll get to that later.

So we’ve got our tonal bases, now. What else is in the poet’s bible for us poets to learn or be reminded of? We are reminded from where poems arise. We know they arise from our experiences, but when we write we call up other poems, or rather, what other poems do. (All poems talk to each other.) Consider these lines from this poem:

   When Sappho wrote: 
   “Whatever one loves most 
   Is beautiful,” [...] 

   Everything in the Book 
   Flows from that single poem 
   Or the countless others 
   That say the same thing 
   In other words, other ways. 
                                              (p 25)

A bit later in Concerning, in the poem starting “To feel, to feel, to feel,” consider the lines:

   Poem after poem, song 
   Upon song. And all 
   With the same chorus: 
   “Wake up, you’re alive.” 
                                        (p 45)

Isn’t this what all poems do? Don’t they all sing & confirm love, beauty, & life — humanity? Or better put:

   Which is to say: 
   Composing poems 
   And melodious songs 
   That celebrate the world. 
                                          (p 190)

We can continue with this thinking of what every poem does. Robert Bly said something like, “Every poem is an anti-war poem.” And in Ernesto Cardenal’s Cosmic Canticle, after about 100 pages of the beauty of the universe & its creation & its growth, Cardenal steps in to remind us that it is the responsibility of the Latin-American poet to write political poems, & then he does. Concerning realizes Bly & Cardenal. And there are a few political poems, but I just want to note one for what it does – it turns a war poem into a love poem.

   July sun on the green leaves 
   Of that chestnut tree, 
   Intense as when ancient armies 
   Beat their swords on their shields. 

   The beloved marches toward us, 
   Cannot be resisted. 
   Throw down our weapons 
   And beg for mercy. 
   This much love defeats us. 
                                             (p 105)

But there is more because what is said is being done with the harmony of the long E. The first stanza has 6 long Es, & all the lines in the stanza rhyme the long E. Also note that the first two lines create a setting of beauty with long-E words “green,” “leaves,” & “tree.” But it’s not beauty; it’s oppressive heat. So the poem provides a harmonic contrast in the next two lines of violence & war with “armies,” “beat,” & “shields.” Then the long E is dropped, like the weapons, until the last two lines with “mercy” & “defeat,” which harmonize but do not rhyme for the violence is defeated with love & mercy.

There is also a larger harmony in Concerning, reminiscent of Pound’s harmonic tonalities in The Cantos. Concerning’s large harmony rests in the B-words of “book,” “body,” & “beloved,” as they are repeated frequently throughout. But there’s more, & I’ll show it this way. Robert Duncan claimed in each poem there is one syllable that is more stressed than any other syllable in the poem. We can agree or not with Duncan, but the idea applies to Concerning because the words that resonate most in the book are the words that make the important theme in Concerning, which is the connection of book-body-beloved, so these words that receive the most stress throughout. I’ll illustrate with the poem beginning “In the spring swamp.”

   In the spring swamp 
   The red-winged blackbird 
   Perched on a cattail stalk: 
   Have you heard its song? 
   If you have, no need of heaven. 
   No need of divine resurrection. 

   It’s one of those birdsongs 
   That hold a spot in the Book, 
   Saving that space until 
   A human song comes along 
   Worthy to replace 
   All that wordless love. 
                                     (p 99)

You can hear how “Book” receives more stress than the other syllables. So one might think, “But this undermines the poem’s important message of love.” But the poem resolves this conflicted interest between the major theme of Concerning & the major theme of love in the poem. The poem does it like this. You can hear in this poem many stressed syllables, which are often next to each other for two syllables, like “spring swamp,” or three stressed syllables, like “cattail stalk” or “those birdsongs,” or even for four stressed syllables, like “red-winged blackbird.” All those heavily grouped syllables coupled with the rhythm push into the last line’s “All” & give it more stress than it might normally have & it definitely increases its duration, which will then be balanced by “love,” which has more accent because of rhythm & because of the long duration of the “v”. Plus, being at the end of the line, “love” reverberates off into eternity, or heaven – or so it feels. And by adding eternal duration & more stress to “love” (that clichéd word, in that clichéd position as the poem’s last word), the poem overcomes, & love overcomes the clichés & gains impact & profundity, & it resonates. And thus it emphasizes the theme without detracting from the “Book.” But I have a little more to say. This poem also does what it says. The poem’s rhythms & stresses have filled “love” with meaning, & thus, usurped its clichédness. And the usurping is like the human song replacing “All that wordless love.”

But wait, you’re saying, of course, “love” at the end of a poem is going to resonate with the V-sound. But consider this poem:

   Saying the word 
   Is seizing the world. 
   Not by the scruff, 
   Not roughly, 
   But still fervent, 
   Still the fierce hug of love. 
                                            (p 115)

In this poem, the short-U sounds in “scruff,” “roughly,” “hug,” & “love” usurp the clichéd meaning “love” like the stresses in the poem just mentioned. But here love is pronounced different. It is cut off short because the emphasis is on the short-U sound – it steals the resonance of the V-sound, pulls it back. And again the poem is doing what it says. The speaker seizes love – hugs, holds love in place – & keeps it from drifting away, just like the sound of “love” doesn’t drift off at the poem’s end. A better way of saying all this is:

   The heart uttering its hurt 
   And its happiness: syllables 
   Whose rhythm captures 
   The pulse of sorrow or joy, 
   The slow ache or throb of it. 
                                              (p 23)

Yes, the poems in Concerning the Book That Is the Body of the Beloved are “melodious songs / That celebrate the world.” At the same time, this book is really one long poem, & we learn to breathe, or gasp, at the end of each poem making up the whole big poem. The gasping is the book’s rhythm, it stresses the joy of each poem,

   And when joy 
   Arrives – hard 
   To read at all. 
   Blinking at Page-dazzle; 
   The words Breaking apart 
   Into letters, 
   Dancing there, 
   Unable to calm down. 
                          (p 73)

And I have been unable to calm down.//




Orr, Gregory. Concerning the Book That Is the Body of the Beloved. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2005.//



You can read my other review here: Amazon Review. (Look for “Thomas Holmes ‘Redactions’.”)//

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