poetryrepairs #199 v14.04:048
Comparative Index, The FIDEL SUITE, Part i and Part ii
JOHN HORVATH Jr : Reading the Subtle, an Exercise
JEFFREY M. WALLMANN : Seeing and Saying
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Comparative Index, The FIDEL SUITE, Part i and Part ii

Seeking the Real Fidel, part i, 14 poems

For Me All Nights are Stormy #1
First Love, First Loss #2
Slowly I Learn about War #3
The First One is Always the Hardest #4
The Cuban Revolution Begins in Bogota #5
Women Have Been Good to Me #6
Sierra Meastra #7
Power is the Group #8
The Argentine #9
La Sia #10
Playa Giron in the Bay of Pigs #11
Missiles in Crisis #12
Revolution as Export #13
I'd Like to Thank...#14
I Am the Real Fidel, part ii, 1 poem of 14 sections

§1 For me all nights are stormy
§2 Love, then loss
§3 Slowly I learn about war
§4 First one is the hardest
§5 Cuban Revolution begins in Bogota
§6 Love's been good to me
§7 Sierra Meastra
§8 Power is necessary
§9 The Argentine
§10 La Sia
§11 Bay of Pigs
§12 Missiles in Crisis
§13 Revolution as export
§14 Finally, I'd like to thank...

poetryrepairs #199 v14.04:048

All the fine arts are species of poetry--Samuel Taylor Coleridge

poetry repairs your heart
even as it splits it open.
The Art of Reading

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Reading the Subtle, an Exercise

Many writers are aghast if editors or teachers ask them to 'revise' something written; too often writers and students think that revision means "overhaul"; but, it is more likely that in 'revision' one makes less drastic, more focused change. Good writers know that subtlety moves many a revision.

First step to understanding a poem is to read the title and poet. It's just common sense to know what a thing is about. Revision asks us to direct the reader's mind more carefully. Anyone would be shocked by a rifle going off in Chapter Three when it wasn't introduced in a description of the room in chapter one. Common sense tells us that rifles do not appear out of nowhere (critics call this "deux ex machina"...'God from a machine'). Common sense says the writer should insert the rifle somewhere before its use in Chapter 3. Revision often requires no more than common sense.

Item 1: use common sense.*
When reading a collection of literature, reading the index is as important as the overall title which informs the reader what is going to happen and/or how things will progress from point A to B.

In reading MERCEDES WEBB-PULLMAN's The Fidel Suite, we notice a division into two parts which, in this case, show an original set of 14 poems and a comparable poem in 14 sections; yet, a comparison of the two parts clearly indicates no change in the presentation order of the poems versus the presentation of prarallel sections (Fidel's identity as in an accurate biography does not change). However the change in part titles from "Seeking the Real Fidel" to "I Am the Real Fidel" indicate a shift in point of view: in part one a narrator tells of searching for the true identity of Fidel which emerges from events in Fidel's life; the second part point of view is first person "I AM". In African American Literature it is commonplace in slave narrative to establish the authenticity of the writer; making the claim transfers to the first novels by Black Americans (for example; Clotel; or, The President's Daughter in which fact and fiction become seamless. Here, MERCEDES WEBB-PULLMAN does something similar -- we've a model in our reading tradition).

So, how does the original differ from the revision? The index tells the reader what to expect. And in this case, "First Love, First Loss" #2 becomes §2 "Love, then loss" - the particular "First Love" becomes more generalized "Love"; from such a hint, the reader knows to focus on shifted, changed, and/or deleted details. These may be as as small as an "a" inserted in place of "the" (where an "a" first indicates a general "any" to become more specific "the"). "Give me a book" significantly differs from "Give me the book".
Item 2: look for changes in details.
In "Women Have Been Good to Me" #6 to §6 "Love's been good to me". a significant change continues the writer's attempt to universalize her subject. Rather than the objective 'Women' he seeks, Fidel seeks "Love". The first two poems (I note) concern relationship to Fidel's mother, to his father, to church-education-Society, the ever-expanding organization of a life. Youth may seek women (whores) to satisfy sex; but the mature Fidel seeks a more abstract (and again less particular) love. Considering the first two poems/sections about how Fidel is unloved/unwanted, irony has a certain import in our and the persona's attitude to what he says.
Item 3: look for shifting attitudes
The above changes in title and index indicate that Fidel is "hardening" toward people who become first, "the crowd" then an abstract "necessity" (see #8/§8) to be manipulated by Fidel who beginning with "The Argentine" (Che Guevara, in #9/§9) accepts his cloak of "historical" identity. So that for the writer and the reader historicity (how one addresses things happening around, to, about him or her; the passive and personal private world view) becomes history (the established and socially accepted, normative story of lives and events); Fidel has transitioned from unwanted child to hero of the revolution, then he becomes THE revolution itself. Toward the end, Fidel himself is as abstracted as are mother, women, whores, and love. So that we may now come to see the revolution imported from Bogota (Columbia) into Cuba as a Cuban export.

(Permit me to note here that Fidel "vanishes" from the scene of events and Che Guevara/the Argentine becomes the actor when Fidel's "organized" world becomes international. To some degree, one might argue, Fidel's role is that of "absent father". I will consider this aspect towardt he end of the exercise.)
Item 4; look for figures; be aware of charcterization. The rule is simple: if someone in the text changes during your reading, your have a "character"; and, if no change, you have a figure who "represents" something. So mother and father, for example, represent something like love and security or acceptance (such points make for interesting arguments about what you read).
If you want confirmation that you are pre-reading such clues correctly, find the overall process as a a focus. It can be similar or different from the overall process (the theme, if you will). WEBB-PULLMAN deftly replays the theme for us. Consider her #10/§10 "La Sia". It is a feminine title (In Spanish) for a poem which concerns the American Central Intelligence Agency an agency peopled by espionage agents (spies) who become the collective C.I.A. which translates to a Spanish woman. Ironically, The series beginning with 10 moves into the historical in 11 and 12 ("Bay of Pigs" and "Missiles in crisis") end with the harshest of verbs: "...it's enough to fuck up C.I.A. operations in Cuba...". We understand that to abstract an organiazation, a group of individuals, and to feminize them/it, Fidel returns to a main theme of his youth. Sexual conquest/the need for love.

T.S. Eliot wrote "in the beginning is my end." Coming to the end often includes going to the beginning. Which may be taken as a metaphor for Cuba itself as an adolescent or as an old man reliving his past grandeur. The biography of Fidel becomes a history of Cuba.

How do we give a life unfinished closure. It's an intriguing question to which MERCEDES WEBB-PULLMAN offers an answer. Section 14, "Finally, I'd like to thank..." (the 'Finally" is missing from Part i,#14 by the way). The image that bore into me during reading this last section was that of an actor closing his acceptance speech for an award like the Oscar. We find Fidel has been an actor in events; he plays the part of "revolutionary" yet, in his own life he repeats the sin of his father by rejecting one son from his "family" and "experience", his main role is not a family man but as someone who is beyond that role. Family simply helps us to identify the character, Fidel. Fidel "finally' sees himself as an actor, someone whose life and success depends on playing the part of someone who is not himself. A curious end to the "Real" Fidel. It makes me want to re-read the entirety again in order to find exactly WHAT is "Real".
Item #5: understand how and why a work begins and ends as it does.
So it is that a careful reading of an index lends insight into the process of revision. The task of revision now turns to applying five items to reading individual poems. As a reader, have you been carefully directed or misdirected? As a writer, did you carry out the plan as suggested by your index. However, if and when you revise, please remember it is a two way process: the index or the poem or both or neither may requre change.

*NOTE. Though this essay avoids use of classical poetic terms and mechanics, you may want to note the structure. For example, The Fidel Suite divides into 14 poems and 14 sections. We know that the classic form of a 14 line poem, the sonnet, has the general theme of love. The structure here seems to be an extended sonnet, an appreciation of an historical figure, a classic "comedy" (someone low in social status rises to power and then falls from grace --the irony in Part ii leading to such a conclusion). In classical/formal poems structure is a very telling feature in which certain "mechanics", line forms and ending become noteworthy.

poetryrepairs #199 v14.04:048

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Seeing and Saying

This outstanding volume of poetry displays Mercedes Webb-Pullman at her finest – rich and provocative and deserving of high critical acclaim. But I am not here to praise Mercedes’ poems (nor to bury them) – I must leave that to more erudite reviewers – but to tackle her collection on deeper, more implicit sub-textual levels as a knowledgeable guide and, indeed, an instructive inspiration for poets at every stage of their development. So I will be focusing less to the “what” of her poems and more to the “how” and “why” behind her poetics, keeping in mind the words of painter Ad Reinhardt: “Looking is not as simple as it looks."

Still, the “what” is where we should begin. That is, before we describe some of the ways in which Mercedes communicates, we should take a moment to distinguish between the subject matter of her work and the content or meaning. For starters, consider the Bay of Pigs, the Russian Missile Crisis, Che Guevara, the socialization of Central and South American governments… Fidel Castro strides the history of the 20th Century with a formidable impact that will continue to resonate well into the 21st Century, despite the convenient dismissal by Western politicians and scholars. Hence, Castro exemplifies the ideal subject for exploration and interpretation and fertile insight. Yes, we read poetry and appreciate what we read. But Mercedes has designed her compendium to direct us as writers, to coach us in composing poetry to clarify and account for our responses to subjects that interest or excite or frustrate us. As well, her poems illustrate how we have to take second and third looks at what is in front of us and at what is within us. Through her, we see that writing is a way of learning.

It follows, of course, that to respond sensitively to anything and then to commu- nicate responses, we must have some understanding of the subject matter, and we must have some skill at converting responses into words. In this regard, Mercedes not only shows us that she is both poet and analyst, but how we too can attempt this balancing feat, this intricate interplay of denotative and connotative meaning. She virtually exhibits Paul Klee’s famous dictum, "Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible." turning our attention from subject matter to content. Or rather, the content becomes the subject matter, which she has transformed or recreated or infused by intel-lect and feeling with meaning. In short, the content – her content -- is mean-ing – her meaning -- made visible. Thus her collection of poems is also a collection of exercises in deepening our understanding of poetry — what it does and the ways in which it does it — that helps us transform our responses into words that will let our audiences share our perceptions, our enthusiasms, and our doubts. This sharing is, in effect, teaching.

Ultimately, Mercedes has created a primer, a two-fold essential text for poets. As I finished it, I was reminded that over the years as a teacher, some of my students have expressed that they are writing for me, but this is a myth. When they write, they are the teacher. Plus I tell them that writing poetry ought not to be a chore doggedly engaged in to please the instructor; it ought to be a stimulating, if taxing, activity that educates them and their reader(s). Their job is twofold — seeing and saying — which underscores the dual nature of this collection. Moreover, in the final analysis, Mercedes proves that these two are inseparable, for as she so brilliantly demonstrates, if we don't say it effectively, our readers won’t see what we have seen, and perhaps we haven't seen it clearly either. What Mercedes has manifested is, in essence, a living compass for directing our readers and ourselves to see clearly.

poetryrepairs #199 v14.04:048

Poetry endangers the established order
of the soul - Plato

REPAIR: resort, frequent or habitual going; concourse or confluence of people at or in a place; making one's way; to go, betake oneself, to arrive; return to a place; to dwell; to recover, heal, or cure; to renew; to fix to original condition.
-- Oxford English Dictionary


Comparative Index, The FIDEL SUITE, Part i and Part ii
JOHN HORVATH Jr : Reading the Subtle, an Exercise
JEFFREY M. WALLMANN : Seeing and Saying

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