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Gerald Stern
Posted by: Talia (---.dialsprint.net)
Date: April 19, 2004 06:55PM

Has anyone read any of his stuff and do you like it? I think he does a great job at constatnly RELATING to his surroundings. He is gifted in this area and it is by far, in my humble opinion, his trademark. He visited my school this weekend, and of course I was slighlty disappointed. I think I expect too much. I just thought his humor was pretty distasteful in my own prudish ways. You tend to expect something entirely different from a 79 year old poet. However, this is America and this is 2004. What else should I expect. I still admire his poetry nonetheless. What do you think?

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The Dog

Gerald Stern
What I was doing with my white teeth exposed
like that on the side of the road I don't know,
and I don't know why I lay beside the sewer
so that the lover of dead things could come back
with is pencil sharpened and his piece of white paper.
I was there for a good two hours whistling
dirges, shrieking a little, terrifying
hearts with my whimpering cries before I died
by pulling the one leg up and stiffening.
There is a look we have with the hair of the chin
curled in mid-air, there is a look with the belly
stopped in the midst of its greed. The lover of dead things
stoops to feel me, his hand is shaking. I know
his mouth is open and his glasses are slipping.
I think his pencil must be jerking and the terror
of smell—and sight—is overtaking him;
I know he has that terrified faraway look
that death brings—he is contemplating. I want him
to touch my forehead once again and rub my muzzle
before he lifts me up and throws me into
that little valley. I hope he doesn't use
his shoe for fear of touching me; I know,
or used to know, the grasses down there; I think
I knew a hundred smells. I hope the dog's way
doesn't overtake him, one quick push,
barely that, and the mind freed, something else,
some other, thing to take its place. Great heart,
great human heart, keep loving me as you lift me,
give me your tears, great loving stranger, remember,
the death of dogs, forgive the yapping, forgive
the shitting, let there be pity, give me your pity.
How could there be enough? I have given
my life for this, emotion has ruined me, oh lover,
I have exchanged my wildness—little tricks
with the mouth and feet, with the tail, my tongue is a parrots's,
I am a rampant horse, I am a lion,
I wait for the cookie, I snap my teeth—
as you have taught me, oh distant and brilliant and lonely.


Behaving Like A Jew

When I got there the dead opossum looked like
an enormous baby sleeping on the road.
It took me only a few seconds – just
seeing him there – with the hole in his back
and the wind blowing through his hair
to get back again into my animal sorrow.
I am sick of the country, the bloodstained
bumpers, the stiff hairs sticking out of the grilles,
the slimy highways, the heavy birds
refusing to move;
I am sick of the spirit of Lindbergh over everything,
that joy in death, that philosophical
understanding of carnage, that
concentration on the species.
--- I am going to be unappeased at the opossum’s death.
I am going to behave like a Jew
and touch his face, and stare into his eyes,
and pull him off the road.
I am not going to stand in a wet ditch
with the Toyotas and the Chevies passing over me
at sixty miles an hour
and praise the beauty and the balance
and lose myself in the immortal lifestream
when my hands are still a little shaky
from his stiffness and his bulk
and my eyes are still weak and misty
from his round belly and his curved fingers
and his black whiskers and his little dancing feet.


Re: Gerald Stern
Posted by: -Les- (---.trlck.ca.charter.com)
Date: April 19, 2004 07:30PM

I liked the second selection better than the first, which I think could be bettered by several of the "amateurs" we have on the USP.

Les


Re: Gerald Stern
Posted by: Talia (---.ply.kconline.com)
Date: April 20, 2004 01:07AM

Here is one that I am memorizing for a class assignment....I think you will probably like it.

Box of Cigars

And I tried either one or two but they were stale
and broke like sticks or crumbled when I tried to roll them
and lighting a match was useless, nor could I
put them back in the refrigerator--
it was too late for that--even licking them
filled my mouth with ground-up outer leaf
product of Lancaster or eastern Virginia
so schooled am I with cigars, it comes in the blood,
so I threw handfuls of them into the street,
from three floors up, and to my horror, sitting
on my stoop were four or five street people
who ran to catch them as if they were suddenly rich,
and I apologize for that, no one should
be degraded that way, my hands were crazy,
and I ran down to explain but they were smoking
already nor did I have anything to give them
since we were living on beans ourselves, I sat
and smoked too, and once in awhile we looked
up at the open window, and one of us spit
into his empty can. We were visionaries.


Re: Gerald Stern
Posted by: Hugh Clary (---.denver-01rh15-16rt.co.dial-access.att.net)
Date: April 20, 2004 11:56AM

Don't poems have to have things like metaphors, imagery, rhymes and other literary devices? To me, this is not poetry by any stretch of the imagination. Not even very good prose, for that matter. Ho-hum, Gerald, I would rather watch dust motes drift about.


Re: Gerald Stern
Posted by: Marian-NYC (---.nyc1.dsl.speakeasy.net)
Date: April 20, 2004 12:34PM


Hugh, I stopped after "Don't poems have to"--

No, poems don't have to.

But I will defend to the death your right to go "Ho-hum."


Re: Gerald Stern
Posted by: Marian-NYC (---.nyc1.dsl.speakeasy.net)
Date: April 20, 2004 12:35PM



In the poem "Behaving Like a Jew":

I'm curious. What do y'all make of the lline: "I am sick of the spirit of Lindbergh over everything." ?


Re: Gerald Stern
Posted by: lg (---.trlck.ca.charter.com)
Date: April 20, 2004 12:56PM

I like your comments here, Hugh. Although I agree that poetry doesn't have to have any particular criteria, this piece doesn't do anything for me. It stirs not my emotions, nor makes me think of something in a new light, nor does it bring delightful images to mind.

In my opinion the last sentence of the poem is a cruel overstatement.


Les


Re: Gerald Stern
Posted by: Talia (---.dialsprint.net)
Date: April 20, 2004 01:30PM

I disagree. I think he's a great poets. I just finished reading his "American Sonnets" and indeed, don't like everything, but he definitely has a way with pulling details together and relating. Relating to the reader, to the subjects in his poetry.

What do you think of Box of Cigars?


Re: Gerald Stern
Posted by: Pam Adams (---.bus.csupomona.edu)
Date: April 20, 2004 01:42PM

I think they're okay, but personally, I'm not going out to buy his next book.

I think the 'spirit of Lindbergh' line is referring to not valuing life enough to avoid risking it,

pam


Re: Gerald Stern
Posted by: lg (---.trlck.ca.charter.com)
Date: April 20, 2004 02:53PM

My comments were based on "Box of Cigars" only. The other poems indicate that he deals with the everyday occurences. A modern day Carl Sandburg type without the impact of Sandburg's colorful speech

I don't know why, but the poems remind me of an Arthur Miller play. Too much drama and not enough of the "word magic" most poets possess.

Les


Re: Gerald Stern
Posted by: Pam Adams (---.bus.csupomona.edu)
Date: April 20, 2004 07:47PM

Sounds like a good analysis- plus the whole dead animal thing just turned me off.

(Which is not to say, Talia, that YOU can't love them- we all have different tastes!)

pam


Re: Gerald Stern
Posted by: Marian-NYC (---.nyc1.dsl.speakeasy.net)
Date: April 21, 2004 11:23AM

I am sick of the spirit of Lindbergh over everything,
that joy in death, that philosophical
understanding of carnage, that
concentration on the species.


Knowing that Stern is almost 80 years old, and Jewish, casts more light on the line about Lindbergh.

We mostly think of "Lucky Lindbergh" as the guy who flew solo across the Atlantic, but I think Stern remembers him for his opposition to U.S. involvement in WWII.

Here's a description of his notorious speech of Sept. 11, 1941:

=======================

The shy 39-year-old -- known around the world for his epic 1927 New York to Paris flight, the first solo trans-Atlantic crossing -- was addressing 7,000 people in Des Moines, Iowa, about the dangers of U.S. involvement in the war then raging in Europe. The three most important groups pressing America into war, he explained, were the British, the Jews, and the Roosevelt administration.

Of the Jews, he said: "Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government."

Lindbergh went on: "...For reasons which are understandable from their viewpoint as they are inadvisable from ours, for reasons which are not American, [they] wish to involve us in the war. We cannot blame them for looking out for what they believe to be their own interests, but we must also look out for ours. We cannot allow the natural passions and prejudices of other peoples to lead our country to destruction. "

=======================

(In case anybody reading this thinks that this sort of anti-Semitism is a thing of the past, NOTE: I pulled this summary off the web-site of an anti-Semitic organization that describes this particular speech as "prophetic" of what's going on today.)

=======================

Back to Stern: His phrase "the spirit of Lindbergh" is partly an echo of the name of Lindbergh's airplane, "The Spirit of St. Louis." The Spirit of St. Louis stood for flight, achievement, scientific progress, adventure, glory, triumph -- all that Great American Dream stuff.

But for Stern, "the spirit of Lindbergh over everything" was the notion that it was a GOOD IDEA to ignore the atrocities of the Naxis, to declare WW2 to be somebody else's problem. So here are the lines again:

    I am sick of the spirit of Lindbergh over everything,
    that joy in death, that philosophical
    understanding of carnage, that
    concentration on the species.

That's Stern's description of the mindset of people who knew that the concentration camps were operating, knowing about mass executions all over Eastern Europe, but opposed U.S. intervention on the grounds that "We cannot allow the natural passions and prejudices of other peoples to lead our country to destruction."

So "the spirit of Lindbergh," for Stern, was the spirit of hypocrisy and indifference to human suffering.


Re: Gerald Stern
Posted by: Talia (---.dialsprint.net)
Date: April 22, 2004 12:36PM

Excellent Marion-NYC!




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