Poetry Friday: Randall Templin

Today’s poet is an old friend, Randall Templin, who’s currently a graduate student pursuing his love of literature and his skill for writing, and whose work never fails to fascinate me.  He was kind enough to send me a couple of poems he categorizes as “recent and open to revision”, which I hope will encourage one or more of you to offer your reactions in the comments as a way of encouraging his art.  The poem is entitled “Hail”:

Hail purples the winter ground.
Your old viola lies roughly on the dresser
like hail on the purple ground.
You have forgotten your hat and it is hailing.
A fir tree like the fingernail of our hill;
hail chops at its bark and at your
skull with no hat. It has hailed all winter,
never snowed. The sound warms it to hail.
On the stairs the hail sounds like pearls
on the dresser next to your viola, safe from the hail.
Next to your hat on the stairs I am safe from the hail.
The second the hailing stops like your viola
the purple afternoon puts on its hat in a hail
of firs and the pity of gulls and hail.

I’ll say at the outset that I’m normally unmoved by poems that reuse the same word, over and over—they usually hit their saturation point with me long before the poem ends.  “Hail” doesn’t have that effect on me, though….or rather I should say it almost never does, and when it does it averts saturation swiftly and I’m back in the flow of it.  I think it’s because the poem’s construction makes me certain there’s an underlying structure I don’t perceive yet—like I’m someone who’s never heard of a sonnet, but I’m reading one and I’m starting to figure out how it works.  The repetition of imagery, particularly the same words over and over, feels like that to me…something like a sestina although not as rigid.

I like a little surrealism, and Randall delivers: I suspect some folks won’t like hail “purpling” the ground since it really does no such thing, but either the sound or the feel of “purple” worked for me with the hail, and made the opening image really vivid.  There is something ominous in the poem—the casually fallen viola, the forgotten hat, the strangeness of a snowless winter that is full of hail, all add up to make me uneasy for much of the poem.  I feel a little as though I have walked into a room I know well and have just noticed something out of place—something I am about to miss is gone, or else something I am about to see is here for the first time.  I like some of the images very much: the tree like a fingernail, in particular, and the idea of sound warming the snow (or the winter—the object of the warming is just a little vague) to hail.

I do not, I am afraid, like the repetition of “safe from the hail”…it calls too much attention to the repetition my brain had consigned to the background, and it’s the one point in the poem where I’m almost jarred loose.  We right ourselves a bit in the following lines, though they have lost some of that tension that was building for me, until the final phrase, since there is something eerie for me about “the pity of gulls and hail” that resonates with the emotions from earlier in the piece.  It’s a poem that works on that level for me, with tone and mood as the things that are really speaking.  I don’t get the characters vividly in my mind—either the person speaking or the person (why am I certain it is a woman?) who has left her hat behind and is out in the hail—and I have no sense of how the images and events in the poem affect them or their relationship to each other, if at all.  The poem for me is capturing some uneasy juxtaposition of human beings and nature, and I can’t articulate it.  I like the feeling I get from reading it, but could hardly for the life of me tell you what that feeling means, or where precisely it resides in the poem.

As usual, I’m hoping to hear from one or more of you on this—in this case particularly, because I’m not sure if my liking it is really idiosyncratic, or if the poem is accessible to a lot more people.  I feel like my reaction to it is something like my reactions to the poetry of Gertrude Stein—a rich but definitely acquired taste—and I wonder if that’s accurate (this is a poem for the very few) or if this is working more along the lines of a Dylan Thomas, where there is that use of image and the surreal, but it is open to a much wider audience.  I eagerly await any reactions (including, of course, any comments Randall may wish to make, if he does!).

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5 comments on “Poetry Friday: Randall Templin

  1. graham says:

    I wish Randall was not in California; I’ve got things I’d make him read at.

  2. Jacob P. says:

    Ooh, I can sense that structure too. And I’m betting the poet has built some kind of skeleton to lay these words onto (the words being the muscles, the skeleton being a form). It could be a subconscious structure, but I’d bet $5 it isn’t. Any way he will open up that body for us and let us look around? I want to color-code the thing.

    • jwrosenzweig says:

      Jacob, I might take you up on that $5 bet, not because I doubt Randall’s seriousness, but because the poem feels more organic to me than a conscious structure should feel (I think?). It feels more to me like a boy climbing a tree—he can get to the top using precision and order and a thousand tiny muscle movements that are, when observed from the outside, remarkable. But if he was thinking about climbing the tree while climbing it—if, say, he had to narrate what he was doing as he went—he’d fall. It feels like that to me, like a structure Randall learned as he went by climbing it. But if Randall can come in here to dispel either your instinct or mine, it would be welcome! And I agree that, whether the structure is conscious or subconscious, I’d like to analyze it a bit more, and understand it if I can. 🙂

  3. Randall says:

    *shuffles in embarrassingly late* *aherm* I just found these comments this morning (I am confused about how that happened, but no matter) and had to decide whether to comment in the hopes you were still interested (or could become re-interested) or point nose to ceiling and let the questions dangle on some pretext such as, “well, as a shtewdent of littt-rachure I don’t believe in allowing the author to limit the meaning.” Since snobbery is rarely the best road, I chime in. (Also, who’s talking about meaning? This is just poets getting mechanical and that can only be good)
    It’s middle! Both are sort of almost not right/wrong, but James is closer to the mark than Jacob. The prompt was that the poem had to feature several words that I generated Mad-Lib style from categories given me by another poet. I was to choose one of the words that had to appear tenish times in at least eightish of the fifteenish lines (the inexactitude of poets). The other repetitions are my choice based on this “organic” or “airy-fairy” form of James’s. They arose from the writing of the poem and partly in an attempt to blend in the required repetition of “hail.”
    Additionally, James, it is a woman who left her hat! And I don’t know why I’m certain of that either!
    Graham, my own great wish for me to not be in California is partly made up of a desire to read at those things you’ve got.

    • jwrosenzweig says:

      Randall! So glad you joined us—I had been informed by Roland Barthes that the author was dead, but he was clearly misinformed. [/badlitmajorjoke]

      Seriously, I’m pleased to get your input, and only partially because it proves me right (Five BUCKS, Perlman!). I think your exploration of a form was really interesting—have you done anything else like it since? Or do you have anything else lying around for us to take a crack at? I need to rustle up some more poetry to analyze (Perlman and Isaac, you also should chip in, if you’re willing).

      I’ll note in passing that the beauty of the Web—a thing I could not even have conceived of as a small child—allows us to have a conversation over the course of a month from, respectively, Washington, California, Wisconsin and Illinois. This is, I think, a good thing, and should be remembered the next time we all denounce the role of technology in our lives (or the next time we all denounce the role of James’s blog in our lives—your call).

      Cheers to all of you. 🙂

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