Cloudbank 16

Cloudbank 16

Not Wasted
Issue introduction by Michael Malan

1922 was a very good year for poetry masterpieces. T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land was published that year and was credited with creating a whole new style of poetry composition, sort of like a cinematic montage, a dense mosaic of disparate images and literary allusions. Eliot’s original composition was twice as long as the published version. Ezra Pound suggested that Eliot cut long sections, some of which appeared in later poems or in the minor poems section of Eliot’s collected works.

There are many allusions to a wide range of sources in this uncompromising pastiche: Dante, Tennyson, Shakespeare, the Tarot (“the man with three staves,” suggesting commerce and cooperation, recovery; but not The Hanged Man, a symbol of life in suspension), Greek mythology (Tiresias, who was one of the first literary characters to change his sex; Philomela, who was raped, then transformed into a nightingale), Joseph Conrad, St. Augustine, and many others.

There are also several references to the Bible and the poem might be read as a response to Revelation. At the end of the Bible there’s a hopeful vision of the holy city of Jerusalem descending from heaven. In The Waste Land we read:

Jerusalem Athens Alexandria
Vienna London
Unreal

It was a difficult time to feel hopeful, especially for those prophets who could foresee the coming apocalypse just twenty years in the future, the Blitz, and the devastation of Germany and Japan. In 1922, thinkers in Europe were still trying to process the horrors of World War I. And yet the poem ends with “Shantih shantih shantih” which is to suggest that “the peace which passeth understanding” can be achieved in spite of the challenges.

There are many passages of unsurpassed lyrical beauty:

—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden, Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither Living or dead, and I knew nothing, Looking into the heart of light, the silence.

Hugh Kenner, writing in 1959, reads this passage as “erotic, the language that of mystical experience, plainly a tainted mysticism.” Back in the day, we might have said that this is an amazing description of the speaker’s mind being blown.

And when we were children, staying at the archduke’s, My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled, And I was frightened. He said, Marie, Marie, hold on tight. And down we went. In the mountains, there you feel free. I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

Kenner writes that these lines,“telescope spiritual bankruptcy, deracinated ardor, and an illusion of liberty which is no more than impatience with human society and relief at a temporary change.” Really? From my 21st century perspective this scene is exhilarating: sledding and going south in the winter—everybody’s dream. Don’t we all want to feel free?

And so, how does this “masterpiece” hold up after a hundred years? Is it still a joy to read—or is the thrill gone?

After two years of pandemic, lines like “I had not thought death had undone so many” and “The chemist said it would be all right, but I’ve never been the same” jump out at you. “The Waste Land” is a state of mind, a journey into “the heart of darkness,” a vision of tribulation, that seems to have helped heal war-torn Europe and which, in turn, has blessed us with new freedoms and opportunities, as well as great literature.

PRIZE-WINNING POEM

Seeing Our Prunus cerasus in Bloom, I Remember Your Short Life by Jeanne Wagner

Between our two lives there is also the life of the cherry blossom.

― Matsuo Basho

At fifteen, I dressed in the white froth
that was my first formal,
tiny pink buds stitched along the tulle.
My neck and shoulders bare.
You’re blossoming they all said,
almost making the sign of the cross
to fend off their fears.
This morning I saw our Prunus cerasus
stricken into beauty. Suddenly
it’s become a Seurat, a hazy Monet.
The bees, a faint tickling inside the bud.
I know they feel its rapture, sense
how the fragile blooms will soon confetti
and sail off with every random breeze.
Years ago, I got back from the hospital
to find the cherry trees had turned.
I thought their beauty a travesty then,
the prodigal way it happens:
blossoms falling from branches
like spent birds. I think of the word
blastula, from the Greek for bud.
A sound like a small detonation.
Briefly, one thing lives inside another.
Yet every year the bees come
back, feeding on its bliss.

Poets and writers in Cloudbank 16

Sonia Alland
Chris Anderson
Bruce Bond
Judy Brackett
Cory Brown
Thomas Brush
Claudia Buckholts
Christopher Buckley
Narcis Comadira
Ginny Lowe Connors
Caleb Coy
Jannie M. Dresser
Salvador Espriu
Alice Friman
John Glowney
Peter Grandbois
Joe Harper
Tim Heerdink
Laura Reece Hogan
Elizabeth Kerlikowske
R.D. King
John Kooistra
Sheree La Puma
Rebecca Lilly
George Looney
A. Molotkov
Robert Morgan
Richard Newman
Angela Patten
Rachael Peckham
Doug Ramspeck
Jeanne Shannon
Gary Soto
Gabriel Spera
Lynn Stearns
Marjorie Stelmach
Jody Stewart
Robert Stewart
SM Stubbs
Julia Thacker
Leslie Ullman
Jeanne Wagner
Moira Walsh
Francine Witte
James K. Zimmerman