Ago 25, 2014

Notes on Kay Ryan’s "Turtle"

Who would be a turtle who could help it?
A barely mobile hard roll, a four-oared helmet,
she can ill afford the chances she must take
in rowing toward the grasses that she eats.
Her track is graceless, like dragging
a packing-case places, and almost any slope
defeats her modest hopes. Even being practical,
she's often stuck up to the axle on her way
to something edible. With everything optimal,
she skirts the ditch which would convert
her shell into a serving dish. She lives
below luck-level, never imagining some lottery
will change her load of pottery to wings.
Her only levity is patience,
the sport of truly chastened things.


Flamingo Watching, by Kay Ryan

Wherever the flamingo goes,  
she brings a city’s worth
of furbelows. She seems
unnatural by nature—
too vivid and peculiar
a structure to be pretty,
and flexible to the point  
of oddity. Perched on
those legs, anything she does  
seems like an act. Descending  
on her egg or draping her head  
along her back, she’s
too exact and sinuous
to convince an audience
she’s serious. The natural elect,  
they think, would be less pink,  
less able to relax their necks,  
less flamboyant in general.
They privately expect that it’s some  
poorly jointed bland grey animal  
with mitts for hands
whom God protects.

A— Are these the metapoetic lines? Is the flamingo itself to be taken as poetry, "God" the poet?

too vivid and peculiar
a structure to be pretty,
and flexible to the point
of oddity. Perched on

D— These poems, so rich and layered. So while yes, as you say, they seem more accessible, I also find how so much could be said of either of these. I'd like to investigate three things (perhaps, three fortuities): the gendering of turtle (as well as the flamingo, a she instead of either being it or he), "luck-level", and that last pair of lines, how patience could be a levity and a sport, how the "she" ends up among "chastened things".

D— Yes, and for patience to become sport, because it is the only thing left outside of just giving up. The next breath is the prize of this "sport", the next step, the next moment. For some reason, reading it this way exalts the turtle for me, makes her seem closer to the core truth of things than the rest of the world.

A Measuring Worm, by Richard Wilbur

This yellow striped green
Caterpillar, climbing up
The steep window screen,

Constantly (for lack
Of a full set of legs) keeps
Humping up his back.

It’s as if he sent
By a sort of semaphore
Dark omegas meant

To warn of Last Things.
Although he doesn’t know it,
He will soon have wings,

And I, too, don’t know
Toward what undreamt condition
Inch by inch I go.

D— From now on, I hope to see a caterpillar whenever I see an omega. The first stanza immediately transported me to Yellow and Stripe of "Hope for the Flowers," but I like how internal this poem is (well at least for me), how it opens us up to the unknown (undreamt!) fraught with both fear and hope (Last Things, but also wings).

D— Happy holidays as well, and thanks for this welcome addition! Pink seems almost set up against think in that line, but why should this be so? Pink as the color of infant's skin, or maladaptive coloration in animals, or the standard of teens?

D— Nice portraiture. Not only of a young lady, but also of a mother beholding her daughter. "Flamingo Watching" for me claims that everything—particularly the unexpected—is within the ambit of poetry, and you've proven how close a close reading can feel. I hope I shall prove as perceptive as you when my own daughters come of age. My princesses and lovers of pink who, being the kids they are, must find it difficult (and unreasonably so!) "to convince an audience/ [they're] serious."

D— This is a lovely, creative, but still very close reading. Currently re-reading in terms of the anxieties and concerns outlined in your poem.

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