Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Monica Raymond's "Sestina with Random Peace Words"/Collaborative Poetics

"Sestina with Random Peace Words " by Monica Raymond (published in Colorado Review)

The bird Noah sent second was the dove,
who watched the dwindling of the waterfall
to puddle. Doves and ravens don't agree,
not even on the definition of love,
let alone whether the wind's an angel,
if what they'd seen was carnage or was peace.

After all, each had only seen a piece
of the landscape. Somehow the version of the dove
won out. Raven, the darker angel,
lingered, jabbering godtalk with the waterfall.
So the dove got the monopoly on love.
It would be all cooing, sweet feathers, and I agree

with you, do you agree with me? I do agree.
Not a bit of a spat or a spark. A peace
that literally passeth understanding. Do you call that love?
All soothed in curves like a bar of the old Dove
soap—remember? Buckminster Fuller lathering up under the waterfall.
Whoosh—a rowboat's going over. Only an angel

can save it. But you did it! My angel,
pressing it upwards against the force of the water. And I agree
in this case with your besting the waterfall,
because death by drowning would definitely shatter the peace
of this poem, which is supposed to be dove
as in gray, not dove as in oh no, under the waters of love.

No, that's the cormorant's definition of love—
to dive so deep in it that no rescuing angel,
no Moebius wit of raven, mumbling dove,
can pull you from the dark currents of agree.
Drenched feathers sleek as fishscales, slippery peace
with the alien element, its cool weed waterfall,

trash, wrecks, wriggling fish in the beak, is the same waterfall
as the one of dazzled coins in the sun. It is the same love
guards our hungers, the same peace
holds us in its iron beak, same as when we briefly tweak angel
of the horizon, breathe sky and the counting house, then agree
to descend, live in three elements, not better-best of the dove.

If you want peace, plunge in the waterfall.
See what the dove saw, high over wreckage of love.
Bind your light to the cormorant angel. Fly to agree.

A number of months ago, I posted a poem called "In Cana," by Monica Raymond. This poem was published alongside "In Cana." It's a difficult task to throw "waterfall," "angel," "peace," and "love" as end words in a sestina, but she does some interesting things with such overdetermined blocks of language.

About the construction of this poem, Raymond wrote to me:
My friend Elizabeth Belstraz curated an exhibit of political art at the Stebbins Gallery in Cambridge in the fall of 2006, "Speaking Truth to Power." A final event of the show in November 2006 was a reading of political poetry by local poets, "Patriotism and Resistance." Elizabeth had booked a whole roster of poets, and told me there'd only be time for me to read one or two poems, so that's what I'd brought.

But it turned out several of the other poets bailed at the last minute, so there was plenty of time, too much, in fact. One of the poems I'd brought was "In Cana," so I decided to teach the audience how a sestina is constructed, and that we would all write a sestina together. I showed them the pattern of words that end the lines in a sestina, and then asked them for six end words. They offered the ones I use--dove, waterfall, agree, love, angel, peace. As a group, we wrote two verses together, but then it was time for the evening to end.

Home, I tossed the group's lines but kept their end words. I was curious about the challenge of writing a sestina with such sugary, Hallmark-y end words, as they felt to me at the time...

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