Monday, April 8, 2013

National Poetry Month: Guest Blogger Melissa Fadul

Thank you to Melissa Fadul for today's post about Duende, poetry in response to disaster and for sharing two poems.

Melissa Fadul is a published poet who resides in Queens, New York.  She is the assistant principal of the English department at Maspeth High School where she teaches classical poetry.  She holds a Masters of Fine Arts degree in poetry.  Melissa is currently working on her second book of poetry.  She can be contacted at MFadul(at)maspethhighschool(dot)org.

Duende Meets Objective Correlative

When Odysseus is on the verge of killing the suitors,  Homer makes it very clear in the latter part of the Odyssey, that “our mother earth breeds nothing feebler on earth than man” (Fagles 380).  One could say that we are to blame for some of history’s atrocity.  One could add our pursuit for kleos or glory and its insatiable qualities instigates the feeble mind which ultimately could lead to catastrophe.  Others might assume it’s an innate characteristic which makes us who we are.

Regardless, acts of violence need the literary world to take notice of them more prolifically.  The contemporary poet Nicole Cooley asserts that in her writing she wants “to think about how disaster produces speech, writing, and testimony and disaster is reproduced through language.  I’m not talking about disaster as metaphor in poetry but about a poetry that arises in direct response to a disaster, a poetry of disaster.” Cooley wrote in her essay, Poetry and Disaster which was featured in the journal, The American Poet.

However, as all artists know, poetry which arises as a direct answer to tragedy is no small feat.  For the poet it means letting go and allowing the subconscious to push its way through the mind’s muck like a Lotus flower and set up home in spaces of the brain reserved normally for recesses.  Furthermore, it means tapping into the Duende within.

The notion of duende (from duen de casa, “master of the house” came to Lorca from popular Spanish culture, where duende is a playful hobglobin, a household spirit fond of hiding things, breaking plates, causing noise, and making a general nuisance of himself.  But Lorca was aware of another popular usage of the term.  In Andalusia people say of certain toreros and flamenco artists that they have duende—an inexplicable power of attraction, the ability on rare occasions to send waves of emotion through those watching and listening to them.  It is this aspect of duende which the poet demonstrates, and elaborates upon in his lecture.

Lorca speaks of the Duende as: a demonic earth spirit who helps the artist see the limitations of intelligence, reminding him or her that “ants could eat him.  It also brings him or her face-to-face with death.”  At least four elements embody duende: “irrationality, earthiness, a heightened awareness of death, emotional darkness and a dash of the diabolical.  The duende is a demonic earth spirit who helps the artist see the limitations of intelligence, reminding him that “ants could eat him or that great arsenic lobster could fall suddenly on his head”; who brings him face-to-face with death; and who helps him create and communicate memorable, spine chilling art.  The duende is seen, in Lorca’s lecture, as an alternative to style, to mere virtuosity, to God-given grace and charm (what Spaniards call “angel”), and to the classical, artistic norms dictated by the muse.  Not that the artist simply surrenders to the duende; he or she has to battle it skillfully, “on the rim of the well, “in “hand to hand combat.”      

The book critic Brook Zern has written of a performance of someone with duende: it dilates mind’s eye, so that the intensity becomes almost unendurable….(Maurer ix-x).

Regardless of what artistic medium one practices, if one is trying to master his or her craft, it seems essential to explore the notion and find the nuance of duende.  One way into the concept is to unpack Eliot’s idea of the Objective Correlative.  When writing his very controversial essay on Hamlet in 1919, Eliot made famous the term famous:

The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an 'objective correlative'; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked. (qtd. in J. A. Cuddon's Dictionary of Literary Terms, 647).

For instance, Zeena’s pickle dish in Wharton’s, Ethan Frome or the knot hole in Lee’s, masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird, or the blackberry in Hass’ philosophical meandering poem, Meditations at Luganitas, and the piano in Lawrence Raab’s extraordinary poem, What we don’t know about Each other, are all paradigms of the objective correlative.  Then of course there is a most apparent example of the use of the objective correlative: Wallace Stevens’ classic poem, Anecdote of a Jar.

In Anecdote of a Jar, Stevens draws a binary between what seems like two polarities (The jar and nature.).  However, midway through the poem, the astute reader will comprehend and realize the jar (the allegory for humans) and nature are not far apart at all. In fact, the poem suggests that the relationship of the two (humans and nature) are acutely connected.   The jar serves as the discernible objective correlative.  He also uses the organic differences between the jar and nature to create turbulence that leads to the eventual discovery of tension between the jar and nature.  For instance, Stevens deliberately instills confusing syntax into the poem to create the conflict between nature and the jar.  By paralleling the form with the poem’s function, Stevens highlights the friction and bedlam which exists between the jar and nature.  Thus the resolve is eventually discovered.  The resolution seems to be the dependency that the jar and nature possess for one another.  This is made scrupulously apparent in the last two stanzas of the poem:

The wilderness rose up to it, 

And sprawled around, no longer wild. 

The jar was round upon the ground 

And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion everywhere. 

The jar was gray and bare. 

It did not give of bird or bush, 

Like nothing else in Tennessee.  (5-12)

Lastly, are two poems below I’ve written which embody duende and incorporate the objective correlative while juxtaposing a warning on the world to bear witness.  

Due South

For Jonathan, age 15 in the last stage of Spinal Cancer

Swing from a Wisconsin willow. 
Not gone is the mellow stream,
where frogs still leap and tease
shadows in a brook. 
Flip from the tire swing
into Big Sand Lake’s creek,
to impress your best friend.
She’s the one
you long to love,
and don’t
know why.  
Bounce a stone off water
Listen for giggles
to trigger ripples. 
Mimic tumbleweed
pirouetting over
deserted tracks.


Give a ladybug a proper burial
in the vault of a leaf. 
Butterfly wings will flail
in iambic tribute,
with a mockingbird on a hay bank.
Take cherries from the grove
when the farmer bends
in the barley stalks. 
They long to be
stolen and chewed. 
Lean the seed on the roof
of your mouth. 
Roll it into the rug
of your tongue.
Give your taste buds a warning
of where you are
Let your smile dwell like soil
caked on windmill wings.
Linger on a heavy branch rubbed
smooth by men with bindles.
who stop       
to rest on a sycamore pillow.
In the wake of their waking,
join them.  They’ll flood
the stream with gulls who skid
to skim water’s lips
for flapping salmon.   

And, if you must go—
go when summer is
when fall has bled its last brown—
and West’s wind has climbed
winter’s pillar, and pointed
to the Styx for Charon

to put out his palm.

Lord of Crows

In a meadow of forget-me-nots,
a farmer bucks barley
in Wyoming dark. 
Inside a chicken coop, his son
chooses eggs.  He picks the best 
blackberries for breakfast from a bush. 
The boy runs into the house,
slams the screen door behind him. 
He drops an egg. 
His mother mutters:
no yolk?

Two miles west,
in Laramie, a bartender
wipes the bar,
counts his tips and looks
at his rusted trailer home out the window.
A stray cat rustles through garbage. 
Juke box belts,
I’ll be
what I am. 
Two men play pool. 
Another introduces himself
as Matthew. 
He buys both a round. 
Soon, the three set out

In a pickup truck,
a beer bottle rocks
back, forth on the floor,
striking Matthew’s feet. 
Next to him,
a Bible, barbed wire. 
They drive to a field
of forget-me-nots,
rob Matthew of his wallet,
shoes, and pistol whip him.
They bound
his five foot-tall,
ninety eight pound frame
to a fence
with barbed-wire
and run
him over with the truck—

Eighteen hours later: 

Autumn’s ornament
is polished in blood. 
A crow pecks
at Matthew’s 
straw-like hair.
It slips on his dented skull
A farmer picks
the day’s spuds. 
A child rides his bike
after blackberries and eggs. 
He mistakes Matthew
for a scarecrow.

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