Friday, June 3, 2016

Poetry Friday: A Pantoum Fit for a Harpy

This month's image comes from Tanita Davis, who photographed this magnificent sculpture of a harpy at the Kelvingrove Museum in Scotland.



"The Harpy Celaeno," by Mary Pownall Bromet*


Her name is Celaeno, which means "storm-cloud," as the harpies were originally that: female weather spirits. Later, they became known as agents of justice and revenge, often with an ugly streak and potent stench, but I see no foulness here---only focused power. Power that challenged me to do it justice.

It took me several tries to meet her challenge. At first, I wrote this creature a free verse poem, but she was having none of that. Choose a form! she cried. Let me breathe my fury into a known shape, like wind into sails!  Chastised, I began again, this time with the repeating, swirling lines of a pantoum to guide me.  I got lost, several times, but she steered me true to the end.

I'm particularly happy with the title. Women, unlike winds, are "nor fair, nor foul" as legends try to make us. Why not just be magnificent?


Nor fair nor foul
(a Pantoum for Harpies everywhere)

In her naked marbleness she’s stern knots,
 even to her stomach’s creases—She’s a woman
-tall instrument, stroking a blood tune from
wrong-doers. Celaeno wrings life from life;

Even to her stomach’s creases—she’s a woman.
With wings close to her ears, furiously beating
wrong-doers, Celaeno wrings life; from life she
tears justice; squeezes her breast until it cries milk;

With wings close to her ears, furiously beating
clouds, fingernails like tractor screws, she harps
tears. Justice squeezes her breast until it cries. Milk
and honey people the earth but women are storm

clouds. Fingernails like tractor screws, they harp
at naked marble. They’re stern, not
honey, they people the earth. Women are storm
instruments, stroking a blood tune.

----Sara Lewis Holmes


My poetry sisters also wrote to this image, and yowza! We stirred up some powerful poems:

Laura
Liz
Tanita
Andi
Tricia
Kelly


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Jone at Check It Out.


*Tanita passed along the following information about the artist:
 Mary Pownall Bromet was an English-born Lancashire lass, b. 1890, d. 1937. She was a pupil of the great Rodin, and studied with him for four years around 1900... Much of her work ended up in private collections, or smaller British galleries so there's not much record online. She was known for her technical prowess (which netted her the Watford War Memorial job) and was commissioned to do a great many bodies/faces.

17 comments:

  1. That last bit, about women being storm instruments? I love that.... I love the whole thing, really. You were right about the form for sure... Hurrah!

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    1. Thanks, Liz. I love the way storms are both powerful and life-giving. And how women often change the world the same way.

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  2. I have a weird vision of a great, marble instrument being played with blood-tipped claws. It's creepy but SO fascinating! Which is kind of the whole harpy thing, after all! Creepy-but-fascinating. Powerful. FIERCE!

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    1. You keep having those vision, m'dear. Saves ME from having them... But yes...I thought of the traditional image of a willowy harp being played by a graceful young thing in a white dress...and said: hmmmm. That's not how all women play that tune.

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  3. Wow, you whipped the form and made it your b....., Sara! This is not the harpy at a distance, but right there in the fight with her. Powerful!

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    1. Thanks, Laura. Maybe it's being part of the Poetry Princesses, but I felt stronger about tackling a form poem on my own (not assigned) than I ever have. Or maybe it was Celaeno, glaring at me.

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  4. What a face! What a strong magnificence!

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  5. This pantoum -- love the way you altered some of the repeating lines, shifting the meaning, and the end stanza in particular, wow! I liked how you spoke of the image, the sculpture or maybe the harpy Celaeno herself demanding a form, and you chose the perfect form.

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    1. Thanks---I've come to love poetry forms more and more!

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  6. I like your line breaks and repetitions, they work like the jagged cry of a harpy itself. Great form to choose.

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    1. Ah...that's an excellent way of looking at it---the jagged cry of a harpy. That's why I love forms---they reveal more than the poet ever set out to!

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  7. I love this bit in your introduction ... "Let me breathe my fury into a known shape, like wind into sails!"

    And I love that you settled on a pantoum. There is a strength and fierceness in this poem that allows the reader to see past the monster, and I love that. This is amazing.

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    1. I don't know that I would've dared a pantoum before I met and worked with my Poetry Sisters. You all have given me such strength to try---and room to practice...two great gifts.

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  8. "But women are storm clouds" - amen to that. I love the ferocity of this poem.

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  9. Oooh, so much poetry goodness from such a creepy looking sculpture. Brava! =)

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  10. Awesome photo!! And poem. :)

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