The beauty of the immigrant’s many tongues mixing

 

Immigrant Picnic
—by Gregory Djanikian—

It’s the Fourth of July, the flags
are painting the town,
the plastic forks and knives
are laid out like a parade.

And I’m grilling, I’ve got my apron,
I’ve got potato salad, macaroni, relish,
I’ve got a hat shaped
like the state of Pennsylvania.

I ask my father what’s his pleasure
and he says, “Hot dog, medium rare,”
and then, “Hamburger, sure,
what’s the big difference,”
as if he’s really asking.

I put on hamburgers and hot dogs,
slice up the sour pickles and Bermudas,
uncap the condiments. The paper napkins
are fluttering away like lost messages.

“You’re running around,” my mother says,
“like a chicken with its head loose.”

“Ma,” I say, “you mean cut off,
loose and cut off being as far apart
as, say, son and daughter.”

She gives me a quizzical look as though
I’ve been caught in some impropriety.
“I love you and your sister just the same,” she says,
“Sure,” my grandmother pipes in,
“you’re both our children, so why worry?”

That’s not the point I begin telling them,
and I’m comparing words to fish now,
like the ones in the sea at Port Said,
or like birds among the date palms by the Nile,
unrepentantly elusive, wild.

“Sonia,” my father says to my mother,
“what the hell is he talking about?”
“He’s on a ball,” my mother says.

“That’s roll!” I say, throwing up my hands,
“as in hot dog, hamburger, dinner roll….”

“And what about roll out the barrels?” my mother asks,
and my father claps his hands, “Why sure,” he says,
“let’s have some fun,” and launches
into a polka, twirling my mother
around and around like the happiest top,

and my uncle is shaking his head, saying
“You could grow nuts listening to us,”

and I’m thinking of pistachios in the Sinai
burgeoning without end,
pecans in the South, the jumbled
flavor of them suddenly in my mouth,
wordless, confusing,
crowding out everything else.

 

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Good art resists what comes easily

Good art is partially about resisting one’s own initial interpretations of the subject. According to the masterful poet, Stephen Dunn, it is more about saying the difficult ‘no’ than giving in to the accessible ‘yes.’ In a way, such commitment to a mode of seeing that is beyond one’s complacent intuition, requires commitment to ‘seeing’ differently and the patience required to put that new way of seeing into words such that they expand the collective consciousness.

Not only must poets turn away from tried or dead language, they must be wary of their best ideas and all the language that was available to them before the poem began. That is, all language that hasn’t been found by the language in the poem. And then even that new language should be doubted and resisted. Resistance leads to discovery. No, no, no, no, and then yes. The good poem offers us a compelling and vibrant replacement for what, in our complacency, we allowed ourselves to believe we knew and felt.

A good artist must doubt the ideas and language that come naturally to her. This will become possible when she begins to resist the easy publicity handed to her by our time’s click-bait addiction, and also when she actively fights the impatience generated by the need to receive quick praise and amass more ‘likes.’ She must commit herself to seeing and interpreting deeply, which cannot happen until she becomes suspicious of satisfaction and adulation that are achieved easily. Her passion must take root in the flip side of obviousness, she must strive to turn things on their head and try to word them from different, and often difficult, angles.

The not so good poem sometimes too easily reflects or accommodates what is available prior to the poem’s inception. Its author says yes too soon.

The hospitality of writing

Billy Collins, ars poetica:

Collins has described himself as “reader conscious”: “I have one reader in mind, someone who is in the room with me, and who I’m talking to, and I want to make sure I don’t talk too fast, or too glibly. Usually I try to create a hospitable tone at the beginning of a poem. Stepping from the title to the first lines is like stepping into a canoe. A lot of things can go wrong.” Collins further related: “I think my work has to do with a sense that we are attempting, all the time, to create a logical, rational path through the day. To the left and right there are an amazing set of distractions that we usually can’t afford to follow. But the poet is willing to stop anywhere.”

from Poetry Foundation