Monday, April 15, 2013

BPR LIT TRIP 15 with Jehanne Dubrow

The second week of National Poetry Month at The Steiny Road to Operadom blog has seen seven trips into the Birmingham Poetry Review volume 40 for close reads on poems with the theme of love. Deborah Ager’s “A Treatise on Leaving” and Lesley Jenike’s “I Am Love” deal with parental and familial love narrated from different points of view.  Ned Balbo’s “Advice from a Friend,” based on a poem in French by Paul Valéry, deals with romantic love versus the love of a good book. “God-Is-Love Man” by Ricardo Pau-Llosa deals with spiritual love, specifically Christian but certainly casting a wider belief-system net, as well as brotherly love. In varying degrees, Daniel Anderson’s “Someone Is Burning Leaves” and “Joshua Gottlieb-Miller’s “Power Animals” confront male relationships tempered by the generational gap of these two authors and Gottlieb-Miller’s poem also explores compassion that leads to self love. Todd Portnowitz’s “The Physiologist’s Rebuke to His Lover” concerns a spat between two lovers.

Other love poems appear in the BPR 40 and just like the theme of death surveyed in the first week of the BPR Lit Trip, poems selected for discussion might also include love as they might include death. The poetic exploration of these themes is part of the reason why people read poetry.

And talking about really reading poetry, the Steiny Road Poet stops the train for moment to comment on the art featured on the cover of BPR 40. The piece called “Man Pretending to Read Like a Hawk” by award-winning poet and visual artist Debora Greger is a 12 inch by 8 inch paper hand-sewn with nylon monofilament and cotton embroidery thread. It’s a haunting image of a man wearing a hawk mask that presumably is hard to see through while he nods his head over an opened book held in one hand. He is sits upright on an Empire style couch with his legs outstretched. His clothes and hairstyle look 18th century. By choosing this colorful image that seemingly promotes reading, is BPR editor-in-chief Adam Vines making a sarcastic but subliminal assertion about the state of poetry? Do we have too many people pretending to read but not putting in the effort required? And let’s not bother to discuss how many people read books these days. Dear Reader here is your chance to step up and get your own copy of BPR 40, better yet, a subscription

“Everything had its proper name,” writes Jehanne Dubrow cum narrator of “Milagro Umbrella Factory.” With this phrase in mind, the Steiny Poet transitions from the theme of love to poems concerned with the proper name or word and/or the writing of poetry. The Steiny Poet choses “Milagro Umbrella Factory,” one of two prose poems by Dubrow published in BPR 40, because it shows an accomplished woman at work with the tools of her trade and reverberates strongly with Todd Portnowitz’s “The Physiologist’s Rebuke to His Lover.”  Like the physiologist, Doña Boss takes the
horrors of her work in stride.

The genius of  my grandmother was in her hands. Once she
unstitched a guy from the machine, his finger a larva pinned
to silk. No one else had the nerve to spin the wheel, drive
the needle deeper, before raising the shank—although, how
else to free his finger? After that, the men began to call her
Doña Boss. …

What is particularly appealing about this poem is its sonic play of words—grand-/hands, finger/pinned/spin, needle/deeper, etc. The lines could easily be set in stanzas with strong line breaks that might emphasis the rhymes, the metaphors such as “his finger a larva pinned to silk,“ and the instance of fragmentation—all elements of proper poetic forms, but the Steiny Poet finds the prose format acceptably apt for this cameo story. This quoted passage also shows how Mrs. Boss earned a name of respect from the men who worked for her, no small feat in Hispanic culture where men dominate and expect women to follow their lead.

Doña Boss was not only gutsy but she knew how to maintenance the machinery and this too impressed the men. Still, she had her own ideas and brought color, variety, and financial solvency to the umbrella business.

 ......................................In the beginning, every shade was
black. But my grandmother wanted scarab green, purple, the
pink of bougainvillea. Parasols for the sun, umbrellas for rain.
Everything had its proper name. Her columns always added
up. This was business that could last as long as weather,
because people lose small things in taxicabs. And, of course,
another certainty: that it will storm, and someone must build
the little roofs.

The Steiny Poet applauds Dubrow for ending on the word roofs, a satisfying metaphor for a woman-run business. Could it be that the proper first name of Doña Boss was Milagro, a word that means miracle.

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