Friday, February 26, 2010

Volkman sonnets

I think the first post on poetry should be something from Karen Volkman's Nomina, published by BOA Editions in 2008. The book is a sequence of Italian sonnets, although the appreciation of these sonnets does not come from understanding of what they are about, but rather how they sound, the language Volkman calls forth, often quite startling in its beauty. For the reader, Nomina is about allowing the line, the rhyme and meter, to have its play.

Here is one of my favorite sonnets from the sequence:

[One says none is nascent, noon is due]

One says none is nascent, noon is due
when two's bleak blinded hybrid twins the light.
None says no one numbers less than two,
the one who days, the one who darks all night.

Noon's cold name is cloven, frigid height,
a one-division in the random, fault
split in fusion's faction, no one's bright
eyeless acme arching - cohesive vault.

That one were none's skulled infant, second sight
of two's twained woes, and tangled toxic root,
near to nothing, nameless, sequent blight,

as two's black use slits mind a riven fruit.
These sumless parents, two and null, make one
Queen of Quotient, who adds her x to none.

Almost like the riddle of the sphinx. I have had multiple theories of what the subject is - which might have something to do with the clock between the hours of 10 and 2, but also just a working and a metaphysics of the mathematics between 0, 1 and 2 (which, I note, are the only numerals between the hours of 10 and 2). But although I have never been able to truly wrap my mind off the riddle of how "one says none is nascent, noon is due" (except in the anticipation of the 1 and 0 making ten o' clock, the 0 coming into existence for the first and only time in the hours of the day), but even without this I fall for the line break rhythm at "a one-division in the random, fault / split in fusion's faction . . ." the comma, the single accented syllable, and the line break creates a regular pause (like a tick-tock) that is fun to sound out. Likewise are the phrases "eyeless acme arcing" and "Queen of Quotient."

In my previous post, I quoted one of Shakespeare's sonnets and how schoolteachers ask their students to interpret rather than listen. For much of Shakespeare can be put into context with an interpretation. Even if the line "Let not the marriage of two minds admit / impediment" asks the reader to go over it again, it is eventually understood. But could we ask a high school student to take a Volkman sonnet and do the same? It would be best, instead, if we focused on music and let the student return to the line for its sound and not its meaning. After all, a rereading will always help improve a person's understanding of the poem.

I'll end this post with another Volkman sonnet, for fun.

[Now you nerve. Flurred, avid as the raw]

Now you nerve. Flurred, avid as the raw
worm in the bird's throat. It weirds the song.
The day die darkly in the ear all wrong -
all wreck, all riot - the maiden spins the straw,

the forest falters. Night is what she saw,
in opaque increments deafening the tongue.
Sleep bird, sleep body that the silence strung,
myrrh-moon, bright maudlin, weeping as you draw

white tears, pearl iris in a net of eyes.
The spinning maiden quickens her design.
Cold cut spooling, integument of awe,

a baby's breathing as a bird is wise
(the bird-bright heart that flutters like a law)
which eats the excess. The strangle in the shine.

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