Tag Archives: poetry by V.L. Bennett

One of the Drawbacks of Representational Art–“Frustration With Representation”: A Poem

Borrowing and altering the phrase of the American Revolution “No taxation without representation,” this poem comes up with a different type of rebellion, sort of, against representational art in some of its manifestations.  Representational art, as you probably know, is art that’s made to resemble what it’s “about,” or “realistic” art, so-called.  This poem takes up only one issue of representational art; that is, whether or not it’s always convenient and pleasant to see something realistically portrayed.  Non-representational art has its disadvantages too, as the poem mentions.  The adage referred to is the one symbolic by now of Philistine, or plebian taste everywhere, “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.”  Unless memory deceives me, the phrase was first used, or at least occurred, in William Dean Howell’s novel The Rise of Silas Lapham.

Frustration With Representation

Two wooded winter snow scenes hang on opposite walls,
One painted by a friend's former daughter-in-law,
Better, really, in its way
Than the larger one across from it,
Bought at an art sale.
The daughter-in-law
Painted from a fenced-in backyard
High atop a mountainside,
(Pioneer-style split log fence)
Looking over a frozen lake down below.
Water, other than snow, wasn't left out
  of the other painting either,
Only it was a scene of flatland
In the woods
With a stream and rushes meandering through.
High and low, snow everywhere,
And yesterday was the near-middle of March,
When we expected
The biggest storm of the season.
Why no flower- and sun-lit meadows to look at,
Why no autumn foliage,
Why no spring daffodils?
Isn't it enough that we have to see it outside
This late in the season,
Without seeing it inside as well?
Some things are more beautiful only at a distance,
But painful reminders up close.
Or, how about gazing in bewilderment
But also with fascination
At the field of yellow,
Yellow alone,
Painted by another friend,
Entitled simply "Blue."
Why that?
Why not "Blues," in justice
To the bright yellow blare
Of horns and saxophones
The mellow ochre of a clarinet,
Or was yellow
A state of contrary sadness?
Who knows what it meant,
But it's better than snow-for-snow,
However good the art,
At least from the perspective
Of knowing what one likes,
As the old adage phrases it.
Today, though, the sun is bright,
Yellow indeed,
When representation is true,
And not blue, except for sky,
And I listen to a little jazz (not blues),
In the spirit of the day:
We all have our representational moments.

©Victoria Leigh Bennett, 3/15/17



 

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An Ironic Look at the Process of Inspiration–“The Formula”

It’s been a little more than a week now since I’ve had the opportunity to put up another poem of my own, and while I understand that one can’t always be inspired to work on specific things or in specific ways, there’s still that sense of frustration that arises when a “dry spell” occurs.  So, I decided to write a poem about that; one gets one’s topics where one can, after all!

The Formula

"Sit and think for a bit,
It'll come to you;
It always has before,
Why should now be any different?"
And yet, now is now
And then was then,
And poetry
Is not made to order.
Unresponsive to logic
Even in its most rhetorical form,
It follows a line and melody
All its own,
Declines to be summoned
Except with most respect;
Stays only to hear
Its own self speak,
Though it insists on
Not being thought
A pompous twit, a prig,
But a voice from a heavenly aether,
Or a cloud.
What a put-up job!
Attributing itself
To a series of unknowables
Or unmeasurables, in the course of things,
Like muses, twilit nights, the moon,
Sorrows, radiant sunshine,
Genius or capacity for self-deception,
Anyway--
Really, what has ever been
More uncompromising than poetry?
More querulous, hard to please,
Stubborn, self-dramatic,
Quick to anger,
Slow to compromise,
And all-in-all
Difficult to compose
And call one's own?
Yet, I suppose
If I wait for just a bit,
Give it a chance to seem humble
As if dropping in on me unawares,
Uninvited and unheralded,
Then I won't have to threaten it
With becoming prosy,
With writing a short story instead.

©Victoria Leigh Bennett, 2/28/17

Who knows if I will be able to continue poetry posts in the near future?  Yet I couldn’t resist sharing this wry expression of frustration at an at least mild case of writer’s block.  Shadowoperator

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A Longer Narrative Poem–“The Traitor (A True Story, for Della and Tom)”

This is a poem which is mainly factual, within the limits most of us can assign to our own self-awareness and self-knowledge.  It’s about a time in my life when I was fairly naïve and unknowing, and I’ve written it for two friends of mine who were, I think, concerned when they read another poem I’d written and wondered if it were true.  This one is.

The Traitor
(A True Story, for Della and Tom)

I can remember what was once the new grade school
From when I, too, was new;
I remember the high, tall trees behind it,
No good for climbing, because the branches
Were so far up from the ground,
Like a prince's cleared forest,
And no underbrush.
There was picking up acorns to put in piles,
One acorn I recall,
And wondering if I should take a bite
As I had seen the squirrels do.
And then the teachers shushing us to the hallway again,
In a line,
And we filing back into the long, low, brick building.
Now there are times
When I think of being one of many,
Mostly the same to others looking in from outside,
Our biggest difference who was rowdy, who was quiet.
I was quiet, except that I talked in class
To others, whispering, getting caught,
But having no close friends
Until a few years had elapsed.
A test divided us into two different groups,
One "more gifted," one "less gifted,"
To make two sections of each grade
From one to six,
And I furrowed my brow over the test
And was deemed more gifted,
While some happier-go-lucky souls,
Probably just as quick,
Were destined for the "slow" group.
The second year,
We were supposed to be grateful
Because the big trees had been cleared away
To make the boys a basketball court
And the girls a volleyball court,
Although I still preferred the round games
And ring games we girls played
Down in the dell below where the trees had been;
There was at least still grass down there.
For that, "I was going to Kentucky, I was going
  to the fair,
I met a señorita with sparkles in her hair--"
And "Round, round, round she goes--"
Third year, fourth year, fifth year,
We grew and grew,
And for one year, at least I had a little
  double chin,
Which promptly disappeared the next,
Due to parental diligence.
Sometimes, there was occasion
To get punished:
Being paddled in front of the class.
In those times, it was allowed
Just for laughing at a teacher's
  quavery voice when she sang with us,
For unkindness used to merit
Strict measures.
And then, getting taken
To the principal's office
For not doing a homework assignment,
"Because if you don't do it,
And you're a good student,
What will the other students think?"
Helping keep up the side for the teachers,
Clearly, was an important matter.
Or, maybe, being stood out in the hall
Outside the classroom
For using the word "lackadaisical"
In a poem, a word the teacher didn't know,
And which he suspected therefore
Must be copied from somewhere,
Stuck out in the hall for when the principal,
Who often strolled by on his rounds,
Would come by and demand an explanation.
No fodder that time for punishment, however,
Since despite suspicion, I was able to give
A dictionary definition.  I knew they thought
I was a smart ass, and normally I cared.
All of these small adventures,
And having my mother hear me recite
Required memorizations at night,
And doing previously forgotten projects
With her help at the last minute,
Getting frustrated because
She made me come up with the answers
  myself,
All lead up to the year
Dad got sick, the fifth grade continuing to
  the sixth;
And there was the slight accident
With me in the car and his blind spot
In the forefront of the matter,
For then he was allowed to drive
No more.
It was, as I recall, in the middle
Of a Saturday afternoon, maybe,
Or early before dinner on a weeknight,
Or maybe even some midmorning when
  she had taken a break
That my mother called me into the basement
And said, "I think Daddy's going to die.
But don't tell your brother; he's too little
To understand."
I didn't understand either,
Though "cancer" was a word I'd heard often
  enough,
And "brain tumor" sounded lethal too,
Since I had been taught so early
To respect my brain and all its works and days.
There were no tears,
And "separation anxiety" wasn't a thing
I would've known about either,
Because it was a term from later on,
A thing people discuss now.
I think I felt a blank, no anxiety,
And the blank continued to function.
Not denial, really,
But just a space
Where other things might have been.
I even think I stopped loving him then, sometimes,
And was callous sometimes, in the way of children,
Angry at him, perhaps,
Dissatisfied that now I had to be one of those
Who were different.
There was a day before the end
When someone, perhaps him without permission,
Took me out to the lake where we had a lot,
And he and I walked in the woods,
Which I know now to him meant peace.
And looking for signs and symptoms,
I noticed not his sudden slenderness as we walked,
His wan face and occasional stumble,
But his arm, where the veins stood so prominently.
Whether it was vicious of me to say, I know not,
But I touched his arm and asked,
"What's wrong with your arm, Dad?"
He just looked at it, then at me, and said,
"Nothing, I don't guess."
Maybe that was a child's way
Of asking after his health,
Or maybe it was a way of acknowledging things
  better not spoken of out loud,
Or maybe he felt glad to be able to deny
Any culpability or wrongdoing
On the part of that limb.
I fought with myself at the funeral,
But after, I had no tears,
To my mother's fear and upset,
So one night in the kitchen,
Only female relatives sitting around
In a circle,
I was gently ambushed,
Forced to cry by overdone sympathetic
  gestures and words,
And then I think they were satisfied,
And left me to myself.
For the years afterwards,
There was the hardening of my heart
In adolescence,
A necessary thing, by some accounts
Of experts we read now,
But it was the end of childhood
True and proper
At my mother's frustrated words,
"Honey, you can cry,
He's your father!"
Refusing
To sanction the traitor who had left us,
My heart at almost twelve retorted,
"No, he's not!  Not anymore!"
And as with that of others,
Life went on.

©Victoria Leigh Bennett, 2/18/17

Shadowoperator

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A Picture of Young Female Life in the Late 1960’s-Early 1970’s: “Let’s Be Good”

This poem is self-explanatory, not particularly complex, perhaps, but others may be able to compare their own younger selves with it.

Let's Be Good

Don't ever let the flag touch the ground,
They told us.
A good Girl Scout
Never lets the flag touch the ground.
And so all of Alice Wright's tears
The day she dropped the neatly folded bundle
Entirely in the mud hole were mostly explained,
Except that she and Lisa Donner
Had had a fight that same day, fisticuffs and all,
Over a boy indifferent to both of them
As all of us knew,
Unfortuitously named Billy Hunney.
But on the bus rides to and from the camp,
We all made up and were the best of friends,
Finished taking sides in one another's quarrels,
All with amicable and overdone kindness,
As we had seen our mothers do.
We sang "Dem Bones Gon' Rise Again"
At the top of our lungs, though our abilities
Were less than perfect,
And some silly song called "Nothing"--
"Nothing, nothing, we sing nothing,
We sing nothing all day long"--
Of course getting riotous just to annoy the driver,
"Second verse, same as the first,
Little bit louder and a whole lot worse!"
Arriving home with flushed faces,
Gatorade sticky hands, messy tops and shorts
From the wilderness hike,
And some, more than not, with headaches
From the extravagant singing and shouting,
All of us climbing into mothers' vehicles
At the drop-off point, in the days before fathers
Were at home often enough or early enough
(Or could even be thought responsible)
For picking us up.  We at that time
Knew all the words to "The Pledge of Allegiance,"
Nor were we confused about "The Star-Spangled Banner,"
Sure it meant something important to someone
Who had our fate in hand,
And therefore we knew the words,
While what they meant,
That bit may have eluded us a little.
Our badges were a source of pride to us,
Though we weren't above fudging our accomplishments
Some, just in order to keep up with Emily Bartley,
The record-holder in our troupe,
Whom we tolerated because
She couldn't help having buck teeth.
Jennifer Allen, on the other hand,
We knew to cheat and swear,
And her we accepted for the sake of
Her rich father and raven hair,
Her tall, cute brother
And her jokes about the counselors,
Made just rarely enough to keep it funny.
But it all fell apart, for us,
The year we reached fifteen,
And Sam Hunney,
Billy's wild and wayward older brother,
Invaded the camp in secret
One afternoon rest time,
While most of us were snoozing on rocks
And towels by the lake,
And tied up and raped Emily,
Who had been alone in a cabin with a headache;
Who, as Jennifer pointed out later,
Wasn't even pretty.
There was much talk then, after Sam got his just deserts,
And Emily was sent to a private mental hospital
To recuperate, which as far as we knew she never actually did,
But then we all lost track.  But the talk, the vows and
 threats,
Were all about keeping our children safe, our daughters
 and wives,
And somehow, the thought shifted from Sam Hunney,
Who was white, to the supposed violence of the black
 community,
And it was the time, the time, of race riots suddenly,
And brutal policemen whereas before they'd been our
 friends,
And we no longer thought it was cool to sing
"Dem Bones" at the drivers of the bus.
Instead, we listened to our mothers and fathers, some of
 us,
And some of us took drugs and went with long-haired boys
To our parents' despair,
And others of us took to reading "Ms. Magazine" and
 "Playgirl,"
In the days before "Playgirl" started playing to gay men,
Each in her own way carrying the flag as she was meant to
 carry it,
In terms of her own freedom, rights, and rites,
Strange as some of them were,
Because a good Girl Scout
Never lets the flag touch the ground,
Or hardly ever, anyway,
No, a good Girl Scout
Never lets the flag touch the ground.

©Victoria Leigh Bennett, 2/14/17

(N.B.:  I know that for some people, the race riots were much earlier, but in the area where I lived, they happened in general later.)  Shadowoperator

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A Poem About Writer’s Block–“The Caesura”

This poem came about because of frustration I felt with getting the creative juices flowing.  It’s not much in and of itself, but it did help to get me writing something else.

The Caesura

I cannot write a poem today, I know;
It's cold outside, though sunshine's streaming in
And all my saddest thoughts are round about
Defeating brightness and restoring murk.
There's snow, there's mud, there's water on the street,
And ice, and I in short am disinclined
To search for topics that would repay work
Or reach for words that pictures paint when writ.
My thoughts are either foggy or are blank
Ideas won't come right, no matter how
I stretch, condense, and weave my syllables
And it's sheer foolishness to try so hard.
Perhaps I need a day, perchance a week
Of emptiness and not of diligence
In which to rest and twist some new wry words
And make my concepts fitter to put down.
For note well!  These few words are not a verse
But show my lack and demonstrate the curse
Of being tired of all the subjects terse
Or long and tedious; so much the worse!

© Victoria Leigh Bennett, 2/14/17

 

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“Twins”–Another Poem About a Love Quandary

My readers must be thinking by all the poems about love’s fixations, problems, joys, and et cetera that one should perhaps after all give it a miss.  Naw, I think it’s probably still worth it.  But this is possibly one of the more unusual statements of a common problem; that is, when the lover seems divided in his responses.  As most often occurs, a somewhat humorous solution is the one that comes most easily to mind for me.

Twins

When I see you divided from yourself
And have to wonder which it is I love,
The neat man, or the man who moves my heart,
Manipulator, or the sad-eyed dove,

Then I begin to wonder "Who am I?"
"Shall I divide myself likewise in twain?
Love both, or choose one, and pursue the goal
Of gaining all his heart, his mind in train?"

Then think I that it must be you have cause
To look opposed thus to yourself and praise
The objectivity you say you have;
Perplexity, though, runs throughout my days.

I wonder, could it be you have a twin,
Or bear a double soul in one, like mine?
For I too have my moments of divide
When I with half myself do fret and pine.

So let's have forth the man with eyes of dolor
Who yet knows how to merry-make sometimes,
And I will love him; if th'other appear
We'll wind up all his stratagems in rhymes.

©Victoria Leigh Bennett, 2/13/17

 

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“The Acting of Love”–Taking a Page from Ovid

In his work The Art of Love, the author Ovid advises a lover who wishes to seem sincere in his tearfulness with his mistress momentarily to turn his head aside and stick a finger in his own eye hard to make himself tear up.  Such stratagems are in the rhetorical tricks book both physical and verbal, and not only of lovers who would be proclaimed lovers but of potential lovers who want to deny love.  That’s what this poem is tangentially about.

The Acting of Love

Oh, why do you persist in saying me "Nay"
When you could say "Oh yes, my love" so well?
Persuasions cunning and so bright arise
In your ingenious mind, your lie to tell.

Yet I dispute it not; I must respect
The limits you have set about to guard
Your evidently sovereign right to judge
And your true self to countenance and ward.

But grant me just a right to criticize
The quality of your performance, nor
Think I debate your knowledge; I am wise
And have seen this conundrum posed before.

And thus betwixt your show and my critique
We may somehow find love a thing less bleak.

©Victoria Leigh Bennett, 2/12/17

Love as a topic is a difficult thing to discuss sometimes!  Shadowoperator

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