Thursday, July 12, 2012

Word for Word Poetry with Spiritual Poets

We have the help of some very special guest bloggers at the Word for Word Poetry series this summer. They capture a first-hand account of the poetry readings, as well as help to interpret the work of the talented poets who present in the Bryant Park Reading Room sponsored by HSBC.

Anne Lovering Rounds for Word for Word Poetry, July 10, 2012
Featuring spiritual poets

Rachel Snyder and Robert Cording, the two poets reading in the Word for Word poetry series on Tuesday, July 10, were a study in counterpoint. These two writers (three were slated originally: Emanuel Xavier, we missed you!) allowed us to hear the profoundly different ways poetry takes on life’s big questions and range of emotional experience. How do we practice forgiveness? Is faith worth it? What happens in and after death? Admitting to an identity as a spiritual or metaphysical poet is risky business; Snyder and Cording showed us both the risk and the reward.

Rachel Snyder practices a doctrine of fearlessness. A self-taught poet, she is mesmerized by the way words seem to take on a life of their own; as she put it, she strives to “be the instrument” for expression. Her willingness to acknowledge and to submit to the power of language comes across in the litany-like form of her long, intentionally inspirational poems, in the way she returns to such phrases as “Forgive me” (“Prayer for Radical Forgiveness”), “It’s that easy,” or “I will” (“Now for the Unbound”).  Written in defiance of self-consciousness, Snyder’s prayerful poems were big, bold, and outright.

If Snyder’s poems live large, Robert Cording’s can start small. As apparent in the poems he selected, Cording’s gift is to take ephemera and passing thoughts—a moth, a chair—and persist in spinning them out, so that, almost without noticing, we end up in another world altogether, sometimes painful, always transformative. What would happen, he mused in “Parable of the Moth,” if there were a moth in your ear? Or why does grief make itself so sharply present in the form of a chair, left in the backyard, covered with snow? A dream vision, “The Chair” takes us from nondescript furniture to “my waking sense / of everything missed, and missing again”; “Last Things,” from the distractions of dust, afternoon sun, or a dog’s barking to “all of it / part of a world so hard to finish loving.”

Cording told us that he frequently finds himself compelled to write about death, as a way of trying to fathom the change he knows it must bring. But his last poem of the evening was, in fact, about joy. “1964,” a meditation on the Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, starts as a family portrait of the age (parents on the couch, a TV set, Sullivan’s voice) and ends with the poet “shaking himself alive,” “armed with nothing more than joy and wonder.” I’d thought of elegy as the default mode of writing about the Beatles: Mary Jo Salter’s “John Lennon,” in which “The music was already turning sad, / those fresh-faced voices singing in a round, / the lie that time could set its needle back / and play from the beginning”; Valzhyna Mort’s lines in “maybe you too sometimes fantasize,” where “a boy from the neighborhood […] / says look even the Beatles die.” Maybe a poem like “1964” is itself not so far from these elegies. Even so, Cording can laugh at the scene as he remembers it, as if asking, “Was hearing, on TV, the yeah yeah yeahs of ‘She Loves You’ really something sublime? Even today, 40 years later, is that still worthy of celebration?” Yes, his poem tells us. Yes it was. And yes it is.      

Starting in August, Anne Lovering Rounds will be Assistant Professor of English at Hostos Community College, City University of New York. She blogged previously for the Reading Room in summer 2010.

1 comment:

  1. I would have loved to have been part of this wonderful evening even though my nom de plume was listed as 'Javier Emanuel'. Fortunately, we have great reading events like these in NYC.