Monday, 2 March 2009

Cornuformia and a canzone

Brief post tonight as H and R are with us. Hectic day with two hours of teaching at the end. This is with second year BA students doing poetry. Usually at this end of the semester they are working on a series of poems and doing a weekly workshop, but I like to introduce new material on top of that. I inherited the course structure so am still working with it and, as it stands, there is one week only for formal poetry, which tends to be spent on sonnets and sestinas. One more week of less usual forms can therefore be amusing and enlightening.

So this week, the following: Five pieces from Edith Sitwell's Facade, (hearing two of them with Walton's music and Sitwell herself reading); MacNeice's Bagpipe Music', Kit Wright's 'The Bear Barged into the Boozer' and his gorgeous 'Sweet Blue' (one of the very few poems built on pure amphibrachs). Then a Villonesque (one of my own though I don't say so). Then Auden's rather stuffy Canzone, then another Canzone, then some Clerihews to finish with.

The arguments are about:

1) Creating shapes out of the arbitrary
2) Musical pattern close to song
3) The joys of constrained invention (necessity being the well-known mother)
4) The running off of form against speech
5) Sheer childish delight

That will do for a start. They are a bright involved bunch and it's fun. I wrote six canzone about a year ago. Here is one of them:

Canzone: The Man in the Doorway

It was already late when I passed the doorway,
the time when everyone moves for the exit
and thinks about home. I stopped in the doorway
and looked in. Beyond the open doorway
lay a corridor from which spilled the men
from the office, each one caught in the doorway
for an instant. Was I blocking the doorway?
They did not say so, did not complain. Their gaze
was fixed on the street outside as any gaze
might be. The whole point of a doorway
is to let you through and not to frame a face
you might remember as clear as your own face,

that’s in so far as you can know your face,
especially when it appears in a doorway
or in glass, as though it were someone else’s face -
and right now it was another person’s face.
Perhaps a face must always be in exit,
becoming itself in leaving what is face
behind, as was this office-worker’s face.
He had a face, just like the other men
and the look he wore said: See those other men?
They are like me, yet this is my own face,
so here I am, drink your fill of it, gaze
at me steadily and meet my own gaze

if only for a second. This is what it is to gaze
at another. This exploring of the other’s face
is what we mean when we describe a gaze.
It drains you yet it gives itself. To gaze
is both to drink and be drunk. It is the doorway
to a place you cannot know except as gaze,
the hollow darkness that reflects your gaze
as if it were a voice about to exit
the body, a voice always seeking an exit.
It is your responsibility to gaze
at me, to pick me out among the men
and recognize me, since we are both men.

And indeed we were, the both of us, just men
in a place, though what I gave was not gaze,
not exactly, simply the look that men
give one another, a space where men
meet as men then move on in order to face
responsibilities, the business of being men
as defined by offices, the business of working men:
factory floors, boardrooms, the wide doorway
that gives on to rooms, another room or doorway,
right down to that most basic of rooms marked: MEN
which you will find next to the door marked EXIT.
It is a comedy: half entrance and half exit.

But his face held me. I couldn’t simply exit
his gaze as I might that of other men.
It seemed to brood, turn inward, leave no exit
except into itself which is no exit.
The street outside was moving. One might gaze
down it for ever as down some final exit.
I owed him something though, without an exit,
a kind of recognition that his face
had registered, had entered my own face
and would remain there. Exit! Exit! Exit!
cried the workers pressing through the doorway.
It seemed that we were really blocking the doorway.

It was our exit. It was our common doorway
into and out of the world we had to face.
He let me go. We disengaged. The gaze
was only itself and we were only men
and everything was sweeping past the exit.

It has been up before, I think, but I was reading it today and liked it.

No comments: