Comments on: Mediterranean by Muriel Rukeyser

“And order making, committees taking charge, foreigners / command out by boat.”

The final two lines of the second stanza of I are so strikingly interesting because they suggest order is manufactured (or made) thing. Ruckeyser is referring to order, as she refers to similar processes in The Book of the Dead, as a process that can be manufactured.

At the end of fifth stanza in the second section (II), the poem asks the question, “but where’s its place now; where is poetry?” I think perhaps the sixth stanza at least attempts to answer this question with the lines, “Exterminating wish; they forced the door, / lifted the rifle, broke the garden window, / removed only the drawings: cross and wrath. / Whenever we think of these, the poem is, / that week, the beginning, exile / remembered in continual poetry.”  The seventh stanza tries to further answer this question with, “The poem is the fact.”

 I picked up on two major themes through Mediterranean. One theme is the use of the “image” or the reflected image. The other being the ways in which Rukeyser positions herself (more specifically creates distance) within the poem. In the first section (I) we get Rukeyser’s description of the city, “I saw the city, sunwhite flew on glass / trucewhite from window.” Here Rukeyser is taking a step back in the way in which she is describing the city. She is positioning herself as outside, looking in. Perhaps she is positioning herself as witness.  In this first section we also see Rukeyser referencing “the image” in the line, “I see this man, dock, war, a latent image.” Moving into the second section (II), in the sixth stanza we get the lines, “They smashed only the image / madness and persecution.” Here, I sense the image is being presented as something separate from reality. In this section we also again see Rukeyser creating a sense of distance as she positions herself within the poem. Turning to the seventh stanza, “There, pointed a Belgian, I heard a pulse of war, / sharp guns while I ate grapes in the Pyrenees.”  The second to last section of the poem (V) returns to the line, “I see this man, dock, war, a latent image.” Later in the same section, we see the line “Once the fanatic image shown, / enemy to enemy, / past and historic peace wear thin.” This section is interesting for the tense shift that occurs at the beginning between present and past tense. The “I see” of the non italicized section is complimented four lines down with, “I saw Europe break apart.” Perhaps this is another tactic Rukeyser uses to position herself in strategic ways within the poem. 

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On: A Romance to Night by Georg Trakl

I was drawn to the poem because I was drawn to the author. It was difficult for me to find a poem with which I felt I could connect. These are not the poems with which I find I easily connect. I may read, and I may listen, and I am certainly willing to accept the trauma, but perhaps there is too much distance, or at the very least a wall built up within my head that is restricting me from feeling a sense of connect. Georg Trakl’s short bio certainly allowed a connection, a sense of trauma that was common enough that I felt something. I turned to his poem A Romance to Night because the title is unfathomably disturbing in its juxtaposition to the sentences directly above:

After attempting suicide himself, Trakl was placed under observation in a psychiatric ward, where he died from a self-administered overdose of cocaine. In the “East” and “Grodek” (his last poem) were written while Trakl was at the front in Galicia.

A Romance to Night shows me a montage of lonely characters, all who exist in an atmosphere dominated by isolation and utter sadness. The first stanza, for me, is about the life span. I don’t see the “lonely man” and the boy who wakes as two separate beings. I see the lonely man finding solace in the night, reflecting on his life. His reflections awaken his inner child, though the hopeful sense that image evokes certainly is fleeting as the next line reads, “His gray face wasting away into the moon.” The second stanza, for me, represents a misunderstood image of the woman in the face of the tragedy of war. While the man in the stanza above her reflects on his life span, the woman is imprisoned, perhaps due to her dim-wits, and her focus is on lamenting over no longer/or never being in love. We see a murderer laughing and for me this instantly shows the Trakl’s grim state of mind. He is a witness to human nature and he allows the reader to see his perception through juxtaposed images, such as a laughing murderer and a wounded nun.

Melopoeia comes through, for me, in the repetition of sounds. Consonance is common, for example, “A half-witted woman with loose hair is weeping.” Another use of the “w” sound is found in the final stanza, “The dead paint silence on the walls / With their white hands. / The one sleeping continues to whisper.”

Logopoeia is difficult for me with this poem, and this group of poems, because the poetry I read and write is so different in how it approaches the dance of intelligent language. I think perhaps being a person immersed in contemporary (I use that word in two senses) poetry is going to make it a bit difficult for me, oddly enough, to get in touch with the logopoeia one sees in a poetics of witness.

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January 14, 2013 · 2:13 am

Quoting Highlights from the Introduction

“The social is a place of resistance and struggle, where books are published, poems read, and protest disseminated. It is the sphere in which claims against the political order are made in the name of justice.”

“Poem as trace, poem as evidence.”

“One has to read or listen, one has to be willing to accept the trauma.” 

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