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Monday, February 7, 2011

Number 62: Marie Ponsot "One Is One"

One Is One

Heart, you bully, you punk, I'm wrecked, I'm shocked

stiff. You? you still try to rule the world--though

I've got you: identified, starving, locked

in a cage you will not leave alive, no

matter how you hate it, pound its walls,

& thrill its corridors with messages.

Brute. Spy. I trusted you. Now you reel & brawl

in your cell but I'm deaf to your rages,

your greed to go solo, your eloquent

threats of worse things you (knowing me) could do.

You scare me, bragging you're a double agent

since jailers are prisoners' prisoners too.

Think! Reform! Make us one. Join the rest of us,

and joy may come, and make its test of us.

-- Marie Ponsot

Hap Notes: I wonder if you notice that Marie Ponsot's (born 1921) ferocious poem is a sonnet? Ponsot is a master of forms of poetry and this poem is a beautiful illustration of how the forms are not worn out if you know how to handle them. Ponsot still teaches poetry writing at the Poetry Center in New York and she was a professor of English at Queens College in New York until she retired in 1991.

Her fame as a poet came late. She had one book of poetry published in 1956 by Ferlinghetti's City Lights. It fared with little success. She didn't publish another book of poems for more than 40 years. Her book The Bird Catcher for which she won the National Books Critic Circle Award, was published in 1998 when she was 77. She was a freelance writer for many years and translated many children's books from the French, notably Jean de la Fontaine's stories. I wonder how many people have noticed, over the years, how much children's literature and poetry intersect? (Although de la Fontaine's work has something for everyone, not just children- but that's often true with children's lit, yes?)

Ponsot majored in 17th Century literature at Columbia University, moved to France, married a painter, Claude Ponsot (a student of Fernand Leger). She had six sons with Ponsot before divorcing him. She's lived a few lives.

Ponsot is a wonder. She writes with many forms and one of the things she suggests to poetry students for understanding how to write in the many different forms available is to practice. It sounds so simple, doesn't it? Yet I do believe it's one of the hardest things to do. You will often fail but you have to keep practicing. If you were on a team for football, baseball, hockey, tennis or underwater basket weaving, you would have to practice, practice practice. Yet somehow we feel that poetry should just spout out of us- as if it's EASIER than a sport. Eh?

Marie Ponsot is a very well practiced poet. You can see the effort she put into each poem to clarify or sculpt her words. In "One is One" there are shifts in the poem- is she talking to just her heart? Is there another person she's addressing? What person? The poem is brilliantly open. I tend to think of it as just the poet addressing her own heart. When she says "join the rest of us" is she suggesting the heart should join the other organs in her body or join with the many other people that she is (and we all are) inside or is she talking to God or somebody else? Your call.

You can find a little more Ponsot here:

Here's a great Marie Ponsot quote: "A poet is the person who takes time from the other tasks of the world’s work to try to tell the truth. So the obligation to do it more frequently or more accurately or more consciously or more willingly, at least, is greater. And the form of the telling is part of something—like language—bigger than the poet. If you’re doing it, you should take yourself seriously and do the best you can. Do the damn best you can! And know that this one may not be it, but maybe if you work hard on this one, the next one may be better. You have to believe that the resource is there, that there’s a place for it to come from and a place for it to go. The place that it comes from is your language. And the place where it can go is into this vast conversation of human animals trying to say something memorable."

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