Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Friday, January 24, 2014

Styles - Two Elegies for Maz

    An Eratosphere thread brought these two poems to our attention:

 "Grasshopper" by Dr. A.W. Niloc


Grasshopper uploaded by Earl Gray onto Vimeo.


The world won't change for one so small
that teardrops wound with gravity.
We braced ourselves with weights and walls.
You faced strict winds with levity,
with your coat buttoned tight, still green
and brown with Dead Sea mud and kelp.

When what was whole is lost we lean
on rain, on roots and suds for help.

When you died and the bees did not mourn, did the crickets
hesitate? Did they draw long blue chords on each thigh?
Did they speak? Did they say "She is gone. Face that fact."?
It's the truth but, in every other sense, it's a lie!
You remain, sui generis, one light that beams
as the guide of my passing and mother to my dreams.


"Margaret Ann" by D.P. Kristalo.


Margaret Ann uploaded by Earl Gray onto Vimeo.


There are no stars for us. Fate-weary heroes, roads,
and thrones won't anchor us this far from London light.
No sirens skirl for us, no crow or squirrel goads
us, sounding rancorous, as shadows turn to night.

You dreamed of holy mud, tanks melted down to spoons,
of standing by the Thames, the last of those who warred
against the staining blood, against the draining moons,
against the crippling memes, against the Vogon horde.

Time jumps, grasshopper style, as London light recedes.
Your verses, in their youth, will cross the Bridge of Sighs.
Night falls to mourning while my every breath concedes:
you spoke the wicked truth and I the honest lies.

So says Calliope: "Your orphaned words will reign
where coast ends path and sea, while time and space remain."

Margaret Ann Griffiths

    The first thing that will strike us about these poems is their similarities.  Both are written by onliners, which accounts for how distinct they are from what we might encounter in literary publications or onstage at a slam.  Both pieces are elegies for the same person¹:  Margaret Ann Griffiths (1947-2009, aka "Maz" or "Grasshopper"), author of "Grasshopper:  The Poetry of M. A. Griffiths", collected and published postumously by Arrowhead Press in the U.K. and reprinted in North America by Able Muse Press.  Both poems are licensed by Creative Commons, meaning that we can do whatever we wish with them short of claiming authorship.  Both are innovative sonnets, alexandrine in whole or part.  Both rely almost entirely on perfect rhymes--no doubt because both authors are curginistas.  Both draw heavily on the poetry of the deceased, most notably on her signature piece, "Studying Savonarola".


Studying Savonarola (by Margaret Griffiths) posted by Earl Gray onto Vimeo.

The only poetry book Earl recommends

     The shared subject matter, form and genre gives us a unique opportunity to focus on style.  The authors could not be less alike:  "A.W." is a gregarious commenter known to any poetry enthusiast who has been online for more than five minutes.  "DPK" is a recluse.  With two poems, "Beans" and "Joie de Mourir", in the critics' top 10, DPK is a solid contender for "best living poet";  as for  "Grasshopper", suffice it to say we've caught the Doctor on a good day here.

    A.W. begins with the deceased poet and ends with her poetry, switching at the volta.  The sonics are spectacular, especially in the octet.  The alliteration of "w" sounds ("world", "won't", "one", confirmed by "wound"), the assonance of long "a" ("braced" and "weights" confirmed by the rhyming "faced") and short "i" ("strict winds with levity", presaged via "with" and confirmed with "still") phonemes, and the "t" consonance ("strict" and "levity" before "coat buttoned tight, still") are exquisite.

The world won't change for one so small
that teardrops wound with gravity.
We braced ourselves with weights and walls.
You faced strict winds with levity,
with your coat buttoned tight, still green
and brown with Dead Sea mud and kelp.

When what was whole is lost we lean
on rain, on roots and suds for help.

    The key difference between these two works is in A.W.'s characteristic reporting, relying on listed details and sonics more than rhetoric and metaphor.

    At the turn the meter switches with the focus.  This is a DATIA (i.e. verse with a trinary and a binary rhythm), written by the originator of that form.  It begins with an allusion to "Studying Savonarola" colliding with a reference to "Summer Haiku" from Leonard Cohen's "The Spice-Box of Earth":

             Silence
             and a deeper silence
             when the crickets
             hesitate

When you died and the bees did not mourn, did the crickets
hesitate?

     My best guess is that this highlights the point that, while both Cohen and Maz are better known for verse--songs, in the case of Leonard--the signature poems of both are non-metrical.  These being two of the greatest poets of our time, the comparison seems not just apt but inevitable.

Did they draw long blue chords on each thigh?
Did they speak? Did they say "She is gone. Face that fact."?

     Consonantal rhymes like "fact" with "crickets" are rare.  This one protrudes slightly because it is the only inventive rhyme in the piece.

It's the truth but, in every other sense, it's a lie!
You remain, sui generis, one light that beams
as the guide of my passing and mother to my dreams.

     Maz loved double entendres.  A person unfamiliar with her respect for French author Henri René Albert Guy de Maupassant might miss this one:  "guide of my passing" = "guide de mon passant" (with some poetic license).

     "Margaret Ann" uses not just a pun (e.g. "night falls to mourning") but, at one point, elicits a guffaw with "Vogon horde".  Those taken aback by humor in an elegy didn't know Maz.

     DPK's fans find two things remarkable:  "Margaret Ann" is not curginated (i.e. the verses aren't broken up "free verse style") and it relies more on anaphora than sonics.  "Grasshopper" may be more subtle than "Margaret Ann" but if you are looking for a metrical poem to practice and perform at your next open mic you have found it in Margaret Ann

     Maz grew up in London before moving out to Poole, Dorset.  The distance from "London light" could be a reference to her own shyness, to the obscurity of poetry in general or of the poet herself.

     DPK's hammer-and-tong style is unmistakeable:  typically, she blows you away with her first sentence (e.g. "Beyond this arid pit is life, lived incognito" or "September came like winter's ailing child") and never lets you recover.

    "Stars" may refer to a prominent destiny or the recognition we might see on, say, the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

There are no stars for us. Fate-weary heroes, roads,
and thrones won't anchor us this far from London light.
No sirens skirl for us, no crow or squirrel goads
us, sounding rancorous, as shadows turn to night.

     The sounds in L3 are astounding:  the long "o" assonance ("No", "for", "no crow", "goads"), the sibilance and the skirl/squirrel internal rhyme.

You dreamed of holy mud, tanks melted down to spoons,
of standing by the Thames, the last of those who warred
against the staining blood, against the draining moons,
against the crippling memes, against the Vogon horde.

    The item "against the Vogon horde" captures Margaret's role as mentor and critic at a time when poetry technique is largely ignored.  Lest we forget, it was Maz who said:  "Death is just Nature's way to tell us it is time to stop writing.  Unfortunately, she never arranged a similar signal to tell some people they should never start..."

    What words could create a better volta than "Time jumps"?

Time jumps, grasshopper style, as London light recedes.
Your verses, in their youth, will cross the Bridge of Sighs.

    Damn, this DPK is relentless!  There is barely time to breathe between stunning images and metaphors.  What is left for a climax, though, after all of this?

Night falls to mourning while my every breath concedes:
you spoke the wicked truth and I the honest lies.

    This is as fine a couplet as you will see this century.  "Wicked truth" invokes Maz's unique sense of humor and practicality.

So says Calliope: "Your orphaned words will reign

    DPK's in-your-face style, so completely masked by ambiguity in "Beans", comes to the fore with "orphaned words", a reference to today's poets' reluctance to promote or perform any contemporary verse but their own.  What will be the fate of our words without us to promote them?

where coast ends path and sea, while time and space remain."

    The hemistich before the caesura refers to a charming line in a poem posted by a novice and critiqued by Maz.  As I recall, it referred to lovers meeting where each of their boundaries ended.  "Margaret Ann" finishes with the assonance of long "i" and "a" sounds:  "while time and space remain". 

    I don't use the word "magnificent" very often but...



Footnotes:

¹ - See also "Just Rain" by Duncan Gillies MacLaurin, with its own Leonard Cohen connection.



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Signed,

Earl Gray, Esquirrel


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