Thursday 18 September 2008

Beth Ann Fennelly's "Cow Tipping"--a political poem

I'd be very interested to know what others think of this strange, interesting poem. You can read it here.


  1. Anonymous7:02 pm

    I think the poem is quite good. Many things are happening in it, yet the speaker is integrated enough to leave the poem open to some interpretations -- for me that's a sure recipe for a good poem.

    An evocation of our culture is surely here: even our singers and farm animals seem trademarked; youths seek their thrills, as many perenially do before becoming doctors or lawyers -- or at least half-believing our society's promise of becoming these if they work for it (though who's to say Kurt didn't race on against the law and later do some jail time? It's probable, even).

    What the speaker considers central here, and where the poem wants to make its most important turn, fails for me, but the poem is still quite good (James Dickey thought Arnold's famous receding tide at Dover failed as a figure because tides are cyclic, but still
    thought his poem great and wouldn't have it changed).
    When she wants to leave "American" self-absorption to consider how other countries, how the terrorists and terrified, see her -- and us -- I think the turn might work to understand some of our people's sensibilities, or attitudes in Europe, perhaps, but she's really wanting to comprehend people in places where thugs not only tend to rule but are the most likely ones to enjoy the promise of remaining alive. To them she would have it coming not because she tended toward some adventuresome "violence" three or four times --
    but because, yes, they hate her culture and she feels the boundaries of conscience too much to go killing them, so she's pretty ripe for slaughter. I'm sure
    the human soul is material for poetry; I think the poet would understand it; I think this attempt fails; but this is a good poem even with its -- according to my experience --failure. Beth Fennelly may be one
    of our best poets.


  2. Anonymous7:32 am

    I once wrote a poem sequence called Palastine, about my travels in the Middle East pre 9/11 and in one poem face the shock that other people wanted to kill me because I was American...groovy lefty ME! Imagine!

    This poem does it much better and I love the combination of the introspection (taking the memory out like a crystal), the homeliness and this awareness of hatred. It is both terribly American and yet aware. Send it to the Nobel Prize committee. Reassure them that we can do both.

  3. Anonymous2:15 am

    Dear Mimi,

    Did you wear a head covering during your travels? I know women who are assertive in their personal choices of dress -- or whatever else, which is no problem here in the U.S., but I wonder how well they would travel in the Middle East where what they consider a basic entitlement could be dangerous for them. I've seen women free to make their own clothing choices -- outside of the mosque -- in Doha and Kuwait City, and even talked at length with a muslim woman at a mosque in Kuwait City whom I had never been introduced to and who approached me {shock} because she believed I might be an American and wanted to know more about my country. But outside of large cities Arab women are always covered in my experience. I ate with a village Shaikh several times but never met his four wives who cooked the wonderful meals -- and never would have, no matter how many times I visited, because I am not a family member.

    Even if the Nobel committee is truly leaning now on a particular ideology (which could become leading like organized religion, or any code made into a practice by humans, and lead them away by its demands from the idea expressed to the committee once that "problems of the human heart in conflict with itself...alone can make good writing") in their considerations, if poets like Ms Levertov were never seriously considered, Ms Fennelly would have still to build quite a career before...but, yes, give them a "way early" heads up because it could one day be merited.

    (btw, speaking of careers that have already been built, I read a book awhile back called "Dark Eyes on America." I don't remember the author's name {confused}, but I do recall that he taught at the university where Ms Etter teaches. I would be curious to know what he might think of Ms Oates' worthiness to receive the prize?...)

    best regards,



    They speak of the art of war,
    but the arts
    draw their light from the soul's well,
    and warfare
    dries up the soul and draws its power
    from a dark burning wasteland.
    When Leonardo
    set his genius to devising
    machines of destruction he was not
    acting in the service of art,
    he was suspending
    the life of art
    over an abyss,
    as if one were to hold
    a living child out of an airplane window
    at thirty thousand feet.

    --Denise Levertov

  4. Anonymous1:58 am

    I talked with Ms Fennelly just recently. I copied off this thread and showed it to her. She thinks it's very interesting that Ms Etter has made her poem part of her blog. It was the first time I've talked with her and I think she's very nice {smile}

    btw, I went back to my copy of "Dark Eyes On America" and find the author's name is Gavin Cologne-Brooks. William Heyen says of his book:

    "'Dark eyes on America' is at once a skillful synthesis and passionate discovery of the prodigious Joyce Carol Oates's evolution, over four decades, into our most important living writer. Within the inevitable proliferation of Oates scholarship, this study will always serve as compass and divining rod."

    Bath Spa University is obviously a place of important scholarship, except...can the words of poets be trusted {I'm not sure}



    p.s. enough of politics -- here's a celestial poem,

    Divine Touch

    What apparition! Ah, What light!
    A white star fell into the garden,

    Unexpected, unsought. Luck,
    arrow, flower, fire.

    In the high grass, in the wide silk,
    it fell from the house of time.

    A star came back to our world.
    My hands bear its scar.

    -- Lucian Blaga