Monday, July 30, 2007

The Embarrassingly Late Poetry Book Club for July -- Averno

I'll post my responses to these questions tomorrow. But here are some starter questions for the Book Club. Sorry for the major procrastination!

Discussion Questions
Overall, did you like the book? What about it did you like?

Were there specific poems that spoke to you? Which ones? Why?

Was there anything that confused you about the overall book? What was it?

Were there any individual poems that confused you?

The stated theme of the book is the Persephone & Demeter myth. Which poems best carried out that theme? Was the theme clear to you?

How would you describe the author's style? How did she use language to convey images, ideas, or voice?


...deb said...

It's still July!

I am still at work, though, and won't be able to engage until later tonight. Perhaps tomorrow :-(

Thanks for the P&D myth link...I had wanted to look something up and never did find the time. More about that later!

Jessica said...

Once again I must apologize for my lateness... there's a lot that's going in my 9to5 life, which is interfering with my poet life.

As for Averno, I must confess that I was a little disappointed with this book. I feel almost disappointed saying that, because I worshipped Louise Gluck after discovering her in grad school.

I worshipped her primarily for the elegance and simplicity of her poetry. But now I feel myself rebelling against that understatedness in this book. I feel myself wanting more.

Don't get me wrong. There are poems I love in this book, such as "A Myth of Innocence," which is raw and layered and beautiful. Or "Prisms," and "Fugue" which distills some very significant and interesting moments.

But overall, I felt kind of blah about the book. (Now this could be outside life creeping in, too. I'm feeling a bit unmotivated lately.) Perhaps because this book has so many longer poems, I feel this way... I'm not sure.

I'm interested to hear what everyone else thinks about it.

...deb said...

I did like the book, though it was a slow start for me. It’s not exactly a sunny read: in it I found death, loss, grieving for self, grieving for family—relations and flesh & blood. What I liked in particular was the recurring echoes of concrete and visceral themes: daughter, mother, earth, body, red, white, cold, garden. The psychiatrist’s occasional voice, inserted.

Even though I first thought the poems had no continuity. The switching of voices, memories, myths, modern, abstract, real language (daily conversation), heightened language I think disguised all the recurring themes. That technique was itself a “prism” that, because the tone was often dark, didn’t scatter

I may have been ready for these moody poems since my own mother and dad had recently visited. Mom and I have a thorny relationship; we push each others buttons easily, especially since her near-fatal heart attack last August. I was in fertile territory when so many mother-daughter issues came up in Glück’s work.

I suppose Persephone the Wanderer pushes itself forward as my favorite, though I really liked Prism, too. I actually think I appreciated all of the pieces, though some not until I returned to them a little later. There is a weave and warp to the book. Later poems strengthened the meaning of earlier ones. I found I wanted to go back and read about red, or find spots where Glück writes about the body. I was glad the book was slim enough (and my bus ride just long enough) that I could circle back and reexamine certain poems.

It was when I thought about the myth of Persephone & Demeter that I became more confused. Reading Averno first, before Jessica’s refresher, left me thinking there was a schism between them. That the mother, Demeter, was an accomplice in the abduction and rape of Persephone; that the daughter/narrator’s mother wasn’t the warm nurturing presence one would always hope for. To then read of Demeter’s grief, of their closeness, was surprising. It made me think Glück turned the relationships inside out. I think she reexamined the myth and put her own spin on it. The two (and more) versions of Persephone seem to support that.

“as an argument between the mother and the lover—/the daughter is just meat.”

It is clear why poetry is subjective. :-)

Jessica said...

I think perhaps my struggle with this book is that I am coming to it burdened with expectations. I expect the book to conform neatly to the myth of Persephone/Demeter and it doesn't fit perfectly. As ...deb points out, it meditates on the themes, rather than the logistics.

That being said, there is some precedence for Gluck's fixation on the mother's feelings of jealousy. Many people view this story as a coming of age from a young girl to a woman, from a daughter to a rival for male affection. Persephone becomes knowing in the ways of male-female relationship and changes as a result of it, becoming less malleable for her mother's hopes and dreams. Sound familiar, ladies?

A lot of my writing has focused (surprisingly) on my relationship with my mother, even though I feel we have a very strong relationship. In that respect, I can understand and find resonance with the lines like the one ...deb quotes.

More reflections to come, must work now.

...deb said...

I haven't studied mythology, so appreciate your notes about the "mother's feelings of jealousy". Yes, it is a familiar story!

I actually need/want to write more about my mother. She recently asked my husband to ask me to write her a love letter. I am "stuck" at the moment, not knowing how to even begin such a task. Perhaps this book and conversation around it will help me in some way. Too much personal information--sorry, but I need to get started soon, just in case. I don't want to magnify any life-regrets.

Thanks for organizing this reading, Jessica. I wish you had liked Averno better, expecially since you are a Gluck fan, but I don't regret reading it or the chat.

(You haven't mentioned anything about the bridge, so I hope you and yours are safe.)

Talk to you later. I'll be gone next week.

Jessica said...

Thanks for participating in PBC this month. I am fortunate to have such a careful reader joining me in this quest to read more poetry.

I am starting to think that my aversion to Averno is self-inflicted, so I am going to be giving the book another shot in a couple of weeks. I'm in kind of a funk, so I'm thinking its affecting my reading.

As someone who has written her share of mother-daughter love (hate) letters, I wish you loads of luck on your assignment. I think its good therapuetically and creatively for us to write these poems, but it is still awfully difficult.

Thanks for asking about the bridge accident, ...deb. I am blessed and fortunate enough to say that none of my friends, family, or acquaintances were affected by the accident. The collapse is one exit north of my home, but I travel south to go to work, so I am not affected. It was creepy on Wednesday because I was driving home on the southern portion of the affected highway when I heard the news on MPR.

Have a good week!