Pushcart 2014: Rachel Rose, “Ways to Begin a Poem” (Poetry) from Song & Spectacle 

"Just before the pregnant pause gives birth" by Marlowe Wakeman

“Just before the pregnant pause gives birth” by Marlowe Wakeman

Begin at the source. Open the book of thyself,
contentious one, thy book in four chapters, four scrolls.
Rise on your own yeast. Spill your villanelles’
hot vowels. You will not go
blind. Though imagine what you might see
if you did.

I love this poem (and you can, too – it’s available online if you flip to Pg. 7) though I can barely see it, hiding behind a leafy bush or flitting between shadows; it’s way beyond my grasp at this point. Still, I love the smell of it, and I know that if I could only “get” what’s going on, I’d love it more. This is why I keep reading – so some day I’ll be able to expound upon something like this and do it justice. Though who knows, maybe I’d find the lathing behind it, if there is any, disappointing, like when I mishear the lyrics of a song then find out I prefer my version. But for now, I’ll just have to make some observations.

It’s in eight numbered sections, with the last two blurring into each other; most sections include a form, but the form isn’t realized in the poem itself. I kept trying to force it, especially with the second section:

Begin with a friend (a writer) playing a board game
at a party. Question: something found in a desk
that starts with J. His answer: Jizm. Haiku the difference
between men and women. Stray red leaf.

Fact is, pretty much any text can be forced into a haiku pattern of syllables; that doesn’t make it haiku. A more precise description from Poets.org: “Often focusing on images from nature, haiku emphasizes simplicity, intensity, and directness of expression….Haiku was traditionally written in the present tense and focused on associations between images. There was a pause at the end of the first or second line, and a ‘season word,’ orkigo, specified the time of year….the philosophy of haiku has been preserved: the focus on a brief moment in time; a use of provocative, colorful images; an ability to be read in one breath; and a sense of sudden enlightenment and illumination.” The second sentence might qualify, in a stretch. But what nails it is the “stray red leaf” at the end – such a haiku image (complete with season imagery), even if it’s not in the traditional form.

But that’s just sophistry, a parlor game. After all, section 4 doesn’t show any hint of terza rima. What we have throughout, as in “The Lit Cloud”, are images of fertility and conception connected with the writing of poetry. And word play, of course – spilling hot vowels?

Each section seems to be a different scenario, a different poet beginning a different poem. But Sections 5 and 6 may be the same poet, starting once then starting over. I love what’s done in those sections with “pantoum com-munion”, not just insisting on the hyphenation (a broken communion? Or just a difficult one?) followed by “pantoum come inside my body.…” That repetition, and the repetition of several phrases, makes sense in terms of the pantoum form, just as the haiku kinda sorta made sense in section 2: maybe there is some element of a terza rima in section 4, and I’m just not picking up on it..

I love how section 7, a medieval ballad, melds into section 8, a contemporary scene, full of flowers and scents and beginning again, one more time, to write a poem.

I only wish I could read this as intended; I’ll bet it’s magnificent to see all that I’ve overlooked.

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