Thursday, April 30, 2009

Thanks, Grinnellians! ... Leviathan


Friends at Grinnell College . . . thanks for hosting me for a poetry reading in the Writers@Grinnell series there this evening.

Honestly, you were the best audience I've had in quite a long time. I felt very welcomed. And I felt a synergy among us that really enlivened my performance. So thanks! From the bottom of my heart. I know that's a cliché but my gratitude is certainly heartfelt.

Gratitude and props to Dr. Carolyn Jacobson for coordinating the evening, providing great publicity, and giving such a generous introduction. And many thanks also to Dr. Shuchi Kapila, English department head, for your hospitality.


And thanks also to my daughter Amanda for a truly lovely visit. It was a genuine treat for your old man to give a reading at your school. I love you, hon! Congratulations on your last semester at Grinnell.

Here's the new, one-day-old poem I read tonight. (Terza rima in pentameter, if you're into such esoterica.)

Leviathan


My friend Janine has a tiny terra cotta
serpent made of arches, loops of red
fire-hardened clay. When you set up

the curves in a row, a line on an obsid-
ian table-top, let's say, or any other
shiny surface, water-like, what you get

is an illusion, mirage, fantasy — a dotted
stitch sewn by your eyes: four small arcs,
at one end (rising) the head of a velociraptor,

at the other (diving) the tail of a rattlesnake.
On this coffee table of dark stone, a mirror
clouded by years of creosote mist, Loch

Ness breached by mesozoic shimmer,
coils of a beast that should have been long dead.
St. George, England's patron . . . it was him or

this monster, devil-vermilion-scaled ophid-
ian champion. Chalk one up for good Sir George.
Or is this Quetzalcoatl? Feathered god

dipping in and out of clouds, a large
pterodactyl-winged, emerald-eyed
messiah. Or Poseidon’s messenger, the huge

sea-snake sent to devour Andromeda,
killed by Perseus, conquistador of the Gorgon.
Whose hair was made of small snakes, dread-

locks each exactly like these curls of auburn.
The sea-dwelling Orc the hippogriff-riding
Ruggiero bested to save Angelica. The Kraken.

The Basilisk. The Wyrm. Treasure-heaping
Wyvern: Grendel’s cousin, Beowulf’s fate.
Geryon, snake with scorpion tail, winging

Dante downward into abyss. Bahamut.
The Giant Anaconda. Ouroboros.
Dragon, dragon, dragon. But no, it’s not

like that. It’s just a little hocus-pocus,
a parlor trick. Just a sea serpent
of brick-red, kiln-fired curlicues.

And yet, she must also be a Titan
somehow. Somewhere inside the terra cotta
smoulders a small flame of a Leviathan.

— Vince Gotera
       
Parking Lot Border
Florida State University
 

Quetzalcoatl
(www.ravenmedium.com)
Constellation diagram,
Cetus the Sea Snake
(sent by Poseidon to eat
the maiden Andromeda).
From Chandra Observatory.

Ruggiero saving Angelica
from the Orc sea serpent
(
Orlando Furioso by
Ludovico Ariosto [1516],
art by Gustave Doré,
from Wikipedia.)

I wrote this poem as a response to Robert Lee Brewer's Poem-a-Day Challenge for National Poetry Month, in his Poetic Asides blog sponsored by Writer's Digest. During the month of April, Robert issued a prompt each day, accompanied by a sample poem he had written from that prompt. This poem was inspired by a prompt to write an animal poem. In "Leviathan," I have ranged freely, pretty loose and easy, with a coterie of legendary or literary animals that fall within the general herd of sea serpent/dragon/reptile/amphibian/dinosaur/snake.

While the topic may be loosey-goosey, the craft is tight: roughed-up pentameter with terza rima (aba bcb cdc . . .), often slant rhymed, sometimes distantly. Pentameter: the BAS- | il-ISK | the WYRM | TREAS-ure | HEAP-ing  (line 28) /   WY-vern | GREN-del's | COUS-in | BE-o- | wulf's FATE  (line 29). Terza Rima (starting at line 8): arcs / rattlesnake / Loch //  mirror / shimmer / him or //  dead / ophid- / god //  etc. Then the middle rhyme word cotta in the last stanza is grouped with the a rhyme at the top: cotta and set up. Fun, eh?

In any case, back to the reading at Grinnell College: here are a couple of photos, courtesy of Molly McArdle. Thanks again for a magical evening, everyone!





     

Vince Gotera's poetry reading
Writers@Grinnell reading series
Grinnell College, 30 April 2009


Photos by Molly McArdle

Oh, also, a couple of students bought Ghost Wars but didn't ask for them to be signed. Yes, they were already pre-signed, but if you like I can sign them more personally. Just tell Amanda. Quite easy to arrange.


Added 1 April 2012:  I just found out that "Leviathan" was published by the University of Iowa's arts and writing website, The Daily Palette. Quite fitting I found that out today because I'm now taking up again Robert Lee Brewer's poem-a-day challenge, as part of National Poetry Month, 2012. Hope I end up again this time with a poem as lovely and lucky as "Leviathan." Take care, everyone.


7 comments:

Pris Campbell said...

I like that poem, Vince. I didn't realize you were writing to Robert's challenges, too. That was a fun series.

Good to see you in action, too!

Vince Gotera said...

Hi, Pris! I had hoped to write 30 poems, one for each of Robert's prompts. But I ended up only writing two. So my output was 1/15th. But hey, two poems are a gift, right?

In that photo above, I was performing the poem "Maybe Dats Youwr Pwoblem Too" by Jim Hall. In my readings, I try to do one or two poems by other writers along with my own. I can tell from what my hands are doing here that I had just gotten to the "wacing cawrs" line ("racing cars").

That poem is so fun to perform. I've got a video performing it. To see that video, go to http://vincegotera.blogspot.com/2009/04/vidpo-10-maybe-dats-youwr-pwoblem-too_17.html.

Hope you're well, Pris. Take care.

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