The Unlikely Bookworm: A Review of Fragments

Words–Find out their meanings.  -Marilyn Monroe
The Unlikely Bookworm, Part II, A Book Review of Marilyn Monroe's Words, Fragments

This past Christmas, my mom, also a writer and a poet, gave me a book entitled Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by Marilyn Monroe (ed. Stanley Buchthal and Bernard Comment 2012). As you, my gracious readers, most likely can tell, I’m a big fan of this icon. To receive a book containing her thoughts, her art, her-self was like being handed a treasure chest I had only seen in picture books. I’m a poet too, with an MFA in Poetry. I’d like to say I know a good poem when I see one (its my terminal/graduate degree after all!), but with poetry, it’s always to each his own. However, I’m going to go ahead and say, Marilyn Monroe is a damned and talented poet. Her words carry you to a special, sometimes dark corner of the mind, just as the Sylvia Plath does.

There’s an eerie quality to the book which compares to Kurt Cobain’s published journals. You are riveted, entranced, eager, awakened; at the same time, you feel guilty, disconnected, left out. After all, she did not share these thoughts and geniuses with you. You were, in fact, never her best friend. She never gave you permission to read this.I'm going to go ahead and say, Marilyn Monroe is a damned and talented poet. Her words carry you to a special, sometimes dark corner of the mind, just as the Sylvia Plath does.

I tell myself, and I really do believe this: There is an irony in the publication of her words. The irony is that while she was alive many attempted to control her mind, to project her as simple minded and as a sex object, yet Monroe, after life, proves herself to be more intellectual, complex and timeless than her colleagues ever were or could be. Throughout the book, she deems herself unworthy of being described as an intellectual, worthy of only self-suppressing and taking on the roles offered to her. However, throughout her life she strived to enrich her mind, her education, her language, but she did so privately. It was all stuffed into notebooks in her apartments. I think that if the great Marilyn Monroe knew (or perhaps knows) that we are reading her words, respecting them as art, as challenging literature, she would be even more pleased, proud and content than she ever was on a red carpet. These are her words, not a script’s, not Arthur Miller’s. Hers.

Facts that prove Marilyn Monroe was tough as nails. It's hard to make it to the top for everyone, especially for those with difficult childhoods. Marilyn Monroe survived her own childhood troubles and made it to the top.

Here, even with eyes closed, we see the poet, Marilyn Monroe.

Suggested Further Reading:

Do All Women Have an Eating Disorder? A Pink Curlers & Post Scripts Book Review

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Pound, Imagism and Sentiment: A Poetic Snare, Part I.

“When its [the mind’s] object is something which is lit up by truth and reality, then it [the mind] has– and obviously has– intelligent awareness and knowledge” -Plato

“It is better to present one Image in a lifetime than to produce voluminous works.”  -Ezra Pound

“1. Direct treatment of the “thing,” whether subjective or objective.

2.To use absolutely no word that did not contribute to the presentation.

3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in sequence of musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.”

                                                                                                -Ezra Pound

My last post, The Richest People & Me,  has reignited my obsession and investigation of modern literature.  To further indulge, I have been working on an essay regarding the fervent life of emotion in the seemingly emotionless poems of Ezra Pound.

Imagism as a poetic movement is stereotyped as an eliminator, a minimalist, a simplifier. Indeed, visually, Imagist poetry would appear to be appropriately modified as a branch of minimalism, in comparison to the poetics before it.  On behalf of Ezra Pound, a poet and director of the Imagist movement: “. . . the Imagists leaned heavily upon the leadership of Ezra Pound and Amy Lowell. . .” (Coffman, 120), the poetic practice of Imagism ought to be described as an acute, multifaceted, and lyrical pursuit.  The architecture of Imagism involves a diversity of components.  It fights the reputation of existing to create an image or to represent a vista through the use of poetry.  Imagism functions as a whirlpool of words, reality, instant and emotion.  Pound elaborated in his piece, A Few Don’ts which has been depicted as a manifesto: “An ‘Image’ is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time. . .It is the presentation of such a ‘complex’ instantaneously which gives that sense of sudden liberation; that sense of freedom from time limits and space limits; that sudden growth, which we experience in the presence of the greatest works of art” (Coffman 9).

Pound suggests it is through minimal use of rhetoric and flowery tongue that an even clearer representation of reality can emanate.  Pound argues in his work, How to Read, that the small range of idiom used throughout medieval poetry enables precision and accuracy, unlike the works of the renaissance: “What the renaissance gained in its direct examination of natural phenomena, it in part lost in losing the feel and desire for exact descriptive terms.  I mean that the medieval mind had little but words to deal with, and it was more careful in its definitions and verbiage” (Schneidau 22-23).  In Pound’s appeal to clean poetry of frivolousness, his appeal to eject “embroidery from language” (Schneidau 23), a precision unveils.  Amidst this precision, a contrasting outcome is born: an intricate illustration of erratic reality.  Reality does not entail disguise or decoration.  An Imagist work functions as reality: sans the disguise of appealing, expected language or the decoration of exquisite, traditional form.  It is through the practice of language directness that a most pungent depiction of a moment can be generated (this includes the emotion of the moment).

The emotion involved in an Imagist poetic moment cannot be named or pointed out.  Words typically used to evoke emotion, Pound argues are too generic, expected and simple.  It is through the image of a poem that an emotion can be not only depicted but also felt by the reader. In his letter to fellow poet and doctor Williams Carlos Williams, Pound lists the generic subjects discussed in poetry by himself and fellow poets: “Here are a list of facts on which I and 9,000,000, other poets have spieled endlessly” (Witemeyer 10).  Pound lists typical, expected poetic subjects such as “1 Spring is a pleasant season. . .2. young mans fancy. . .3. love, a delightful tickling. . .6 men love women. . .7. men fight battles” (Witemeyer 11).  Pound explains further in the letter: “Beyond this, men think & feel certain things.  & see certain things not with the bodily vision” (Witemeyer 11).  These incoherent “things” are evoked in Pound’s poetry.  He previews this achievement later on in the same letter while describing his ambition.  He offers a feeble list to Williams Carlos Williams that nearly touches the accomplishments seen in Pound’s works.  This list is in response to Williams Carlos Williams’ request for his “ultimate attainments in poetry” (Witemeyer 10).  Pound explicates, “I don’t know that I can make much of a list.  1.  To paint the thing as I see it.  2.  Beauty.  3.  Freedom from didactisism [sic].  4.  It is only good manners if you repeat a few other men to at least do it better or more briefly. ― utter originality is of course out of the question” (Witemeyer 11).  This brief list calls Pound’s Imagist manifesto to mind (see Epigraph).  Aside from the published list of requirements (see Epigraph), the list in his personal letter appeals to visual arts (“to paint the thing”) and untangles morality and ethics from poetry (“freedom from didactisism”).  While he attempts to free himself from the stereotypes associated with poetry in the initial list which describes the clichés persistently induced in poetry, he admits in the second list, number four (“utter originality is out of the question”) that the human experience is in itself a cliché, a cliché that can be depicted in a much more exact representation.  Number four can also be interpreted as a sarcasm (I am inclined to interpret it as such).  If it is, then number four becomes a plea for originality, a plea which is heard amidst the canvas of Pound’s verse.

Despite the unrelenting attachment of simplicity to Imagism, perhaps because of the smallness of many Imagist poems, Pound proves that the emotional strings sewn through even the shortest works contrive a complex web. Emotion and ideals can be construed from many of Pound’s shortest poems without the explicit classic words and phraseologies.  Even the shortest of poems invisibly emits emotion and consciousness like smell from an item.  Pound explains in his work, Spirit of Romance, “Poetry is a sort of inspired mathematics, which gives us equations, not for abstract figures, triangles, spheres and the like, but equations for the human emotions”(Kenner 61).

Investigation of Pound’s collection of poems, Personae, unveils sentiment in the form of frank, detailed poetic depictions of realistic instances.  The poems which appear simple and short unnoticeably secrete a plethora of attitude and emotion.  An image depicted with particular words, like a photograph, can enable feeling.  Connotations derived from personal, real experiences creep up on the reader like illness.

To be continued…

Family of Poets

This post is dedicated to my mother, Carolina Hospital, in honor of Mother’s Day, this weekend!

As a gift, my mother invited me to take a poetry workshop led by the prolific (and perfect!) poet, Li-Young Lee. We waited to meet him. Mom gave him a copy of her own poetry book (which, like Lee’s, grows from an identity formed in exile). When she told him we were mother and daughter poets, he looked at us warmly with curiousity, the way I admire an interesting seashell.

Below, I write about my experience with my mother’s book– a unique sort of review, from the perspective of a daughter, a daughter poet to be exact.

After studying and reading so many poets, my mother’s poetry has taken on a new form. I perceive and absorb her work differently and have a newfound admiration for her. I always did of course, but now that I’m a stronger reader and a stronger poet, I appreciate her process and obsessions so much more. I can comprehend her gravitations and poetic pulls toward certain subject matters and materials. Also, I didn’t realize what a groundbreaking historian and recorder of the Cuban American writing movement she was. I know it seems silly not to realize how important your mom is in the context of your own field, but I tended to steer clear of her subject orientations, probably for the purpose of my own self-discovery. Now, that I feel confident and more artistically mature, I can come home again.

Home, in the context of writing is my mother’s voice. I listened to her read and address audiences around the country. When I was little, I’d fall asleep on folding chairs to the sound of Adrian Castro’s booms and my mother’s lyrical bongo beats. I envisioned Cuba’s prisons through metaphor. I heard stories of rafters, explanations for Spanish street names, el exilio and about me and my place in my mother’s heart. I understand now that my mother’s obsessions hang heavier than any of mine ever could, that her personal agenda stems not only from social injustice or witness (as mine might) but from personal heartbreak and geographical and cultural loss.

Aside from my close ties to the work and to the author :), I felt intimately involved with the material. It’s funny because my mom will say to me, “you’re so brave to take your work into these emotional issues,” but I said to her, “you’re so brave for expressing moments of intimacy!” She does so in such a relaxed way and for the purpose of social or cultural commentary. I don’t know how to achieve that kind of intimacy and quietness through language yet. Also, her lyrical conveyance of love and the private self radiate the page with genuineness. After reading my mom’s book, I wonder if I rely on surrealism to skirt this intimacy and explicit references of sentiment. Or, I wonder if I have not experienced such massive interconnectedness with the mature self, loyal non-familial love and utterly dedicated faith. My mom always used to tell me, “I do it out of love!” She has this overwhelming and true faith that love itself is a reason to do anything, that selflessness is more fulfilling than selfishness. In my younger years, I would get angry or protective and worry that she was being exploited or that she was overly concerned with too many responsibilities. Now, especially after rereading the poetry, I understand what she meant all along about love and her schemas of self-fulfillment. I can definitely recognize her attachments to Li-Young Lee and his philosophies. I see both my mother and Lee in each other’s’ work and in each poet’s philosophies on life.

My mother’s precise depiction of nature feels crisp and fresh, not overstated or understated. The images seem to frame the personal: the loveliness or tranquility of a natural moment entwines with the emotion of the human experience. Silence allies with color and feeling in some of the pieces. I tried hard to capture this kind of intimacy framed in the calmness of nature. I felt at ease actually while doing it, embraced by a tranquil lack of pressure and more of an aura of appreciation and spirituality.
http://www.amazon.com/Child-Exile-Poetry-Memoir/dp/1558854118/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1399571113&sr=1-4&keywords=a+child+of+exile