C.N.P Poetry 

  • Cathexis Northwest Press

Whitman In Canada; Caesura

By: Robert Krantz


Whitman in Canada 

Our dying didn’t 

matter to many, 

silence of our song

becoming a palate 

for adolescent 

chortles and chants

for more or less. 

I remember our first kiss

in Canada that grew like

cities on the plains—

sheaves of wheat,

new roots earth-desperate 

and starving.  

For once, nothing 

arose from the past, 

no green tides

to pull our moods

over these naked swells 

of blue sage and heather—

clear-eyed moon

speaking bold yesses 

to its own hovering. 

In the evening, 

you lounge on the settee 

of the hotel portico,  

thinking of undergraduate 

cigarettes and Niagara Falls. 

I read Whitman,  

last page to first—

beginning with death,  

ending in light.  

Caesura

Two-hundred miles

of spanning Ontario plains

can’t help us now,

Stratford standing

halfway between 

Detroit and The Falls—

moonlit intermission

of white wine and brie.

We argue like lovers—

in silence,

iambs sliced in two,

moats of blank verse

spill out over burning rivers,

deep gorges 

of misunderstanding.

Midsummer, I grasp your myth, 

clutch your magic,

and you, whisper my folly.

We find no middling words 

to bridge this

undiscovered country,

no kisses, 

no mumbled apologies . . . 

I think of you often—

your aria never stops

praying for rest. 


Robert T. Krantz writes poetry.


Interview With The Poet:


Cathexis Northwest Press:

You said that “Place” is becoming more important to you, and “place” redounds heavily through both of these poems; it is literally brimming over with location, as well as this evocative temporal play on memory. Both the physical and the metaphysical seem to be taking place at once. With this in mind, one line in particular seems striking to me: “For once, nothing / arose from the past…”, which I think is such a gripping phrase to use in the middle of describing a memory. Could you expand on that line for us?


Robert Krantz:

In “Whitman”, there are all these themes of aging and memory. To me memories are fascinating in that they are, generally speaking, cumulative. Unless there is some biological factor at play, you are never going to lose your experience of the events in your life. However, as this line examines, with more memories, there becomes more room for misinterpreting current life events through a prior filter.

“Whitman” is a middle-aged love poem. The line speaks to the beginning of a relationship that, for whatever reason, doesn’t carry that collection of memory.

Then too, there could be a thinly veiled reference to a certain Shakespearean play …


CNP:

Both these poems have such a scope of distance, “Whitman” with the elaboration of memory, “Caesura” in a more literal sense that shifts from geographic to personal—and you mentioned having plenty of time to think these poems through while driving. Do you have much time for writing during these voyages, or is it more a flood of output once you get back home?


RK:

95% of my time on this planet is spent ruminating about one damn thing or another. So there is always plenty of time to think things through. I’d have to say that largely my process of writing is tons of rumination and reflection followed by a brief spontaneous uprising. Sometimes I will jot a line or two, or an idea into my iphone note app. I may have done that with these two pieces.

I know my writing style seems to be sudden outbursts of things I was unaware were floating in my head, so this long rumination period sounds so foreign and intriguing to me. I’ve been thinking for years about where and how the wind begins and where it ends and have never been able to use this idea significantly in any piece of writing, to date. But, the questions are there, and, not to sound too new-agey, the poem will appear when it appears. So, yeah, even though the actual writing is spontaneous, with very few edits, the simmering generally takes time.


CNP:

The trajectory of “Whitman” seems to have the flow of a road trip one has taken many times before; it starts where it ends, with a nod to knowing where it was going all along—like a well traveled driver with a first time passenger. The bookend of “Our dying..” and ”beginning with death…” really stood out to me and made me anxious to read it again. Was that form intentional or did you discover the cyclical nature of the poem as you were writing it?


RK:

I completely and utterly stumbled upon this. I take no credit for it. Sometimes the muse is kind. Once I saw the thematic structure on paper, I was delighted, of course. I think it took a marginal poem to an interesting, layered piece of writing—dare I say, “art.” But in this instance, I was just a photographer who happened to be pointing the camera in the right direction when the time to shoot arrived. In my defense, I had been reading Leaves of Grass and had it handy when I wrote that poem. When I saw its beginning lines and its last stanza, I just knew how to wrap my poem up.


CNP:

A bit of a follow up; the first and last lines in “Whitman” are so strong to me—which came first?


RK:

So, I’m apt to tell you I have all this control, foresight and vision in my mind’s eye about what I want to happen in a poem, but it wouldn’t honest. It’s much more fluid than that for me. I did write the first line first. Then I teased out the following couple lines and it funneled into its own “ending” by its own volition.

I was in this M.F.A. program for a while and the other students would always rail against anything other than complete control over a poem, calculated word choices and placements and things like that. It’s never worked that way for me. I dropped out of that program pretty quickly.


CNP:

“Caesura” has several clever nods to craft; of course, the poems title, but the spilling over of technique into everyday life really impacted me. The arguing, followed by the silence of “iambs sliced in two” and the “moats of blank verse”, and then this turn of “deep gorges / of misunderstanding.” It really reminded me of times I have been unable to explain the craft, and how my brain views and explains my reality to non-poet friends/family/lovers. Was that the intention, or am I simply projecting?


RK:

You’re definitely projecting (ha ha). No, I think “Caesura” really looks at where art and life intersect and the moment and place those intersections occur, as they parallel the human, romantic relationship. I don’t worry about explaining my work to anyone anymore, or why I continue to write poetry. To be honest, you’re the first person who’s asked. You have to remember too, that there are all these personal, unknowable-to-the-reader elements. Let’s just say for example that the love interest in “Caesura” was a former theatre major in college. That changes the whole thing, doesn’t it?


CNP:

You mention that “Caesura” is about a romantic relationship. On my first read (without your footnotes) I was torn between reading the “you” addressed by the speaker in the poem as a person, or as a personification of the country itself, or something the spirit or history of the country. The speaker is clearly encompassed in physical space, but the “you” is only tangible through the gasping of “myth” and the whispering of the speakers “folly”. I think that is the magic of this poem to me, it can be read as deeply personal, and also as this sort of declaration to ones landscape—and I think the last line is so powerful in both regards. Was this kind of double reading intentional? I think you’re on to something about “Caesura” being layered with the general and the personal. But don’t you think all good poetry does that on some level?


RK:

Specifically, I was thinking about the Arthurian myth of how the land was inextricably tied to Arthur’s person, his body, his health, etc. And then I stretched that out to explore the myth of a specific person or persons in general and how their myth is tied to a body, a human form, Then, as the night grew longer and I got into being 200 miles or so into my trip, I began to think about the myth of America and the myth of Canada. BY the time I hit Stratford (where they have a phenomenal summer Shakespeare festival), the various theatre, play and symphony metaphor motifs began to strike me as relevant, in that I think we act out or myth or story in art and in relationship. Again, the pause is a reflective moment to catch a breath, process the act or piece of music that one has just experienced before the next movement or act starts. I tried to mirror this pause with the various phases of an early romantic relationship—but a real one, with real people, not loaded with Byron-esque romanticism.


CNP:

The voice is so different from that of “Whitman”, the addresses much more vague, and yet somehow more tender.


RK:

Thank you


CNP:

I think you are right that these poems are complimentary, in form and landscape, but they have such unique tenses. It is fun reading them back to back, it feels as if “Whitman” is the long periods of daydreaming out the car window, more nostalgic, while “Caesura” has this sense of immediacy. Both opening lines are so well crafted towards their sentiments, “Caesura” having this declaration of tangible space, while “Whitman” begins with this impossible recollection “Our dying didn’t / matter to many” and I love that—how could the speaker know that? and yet I don’t question it—and then they both turn on each other in the way I think the other poem is going to; “Caesura” starts specific and grows a bit more abstract, while “Whitman” begins with this impossible declaration, and then grows more and more specific in these memories. Were you conscious at all about both poems while writing/editing them? Or was it a happy accident that they happened to mirror each other so well?


RK:

I didn’t realize they were so complimentary until I began submitting them to journals. I was trying to place three pieces together (the middle one called “Pearl”). I started looking at the strong themes that seemed somehow tied together in “Whitman” and “Caesura”. When I ditched “Pearl,” it was obvious that the two poems left were at the very least brother and sister, if not non-identical twins. Honestly, and I don’t know if I pulled this off, both the poems are “about” the same things. I felt I was looking at the same object from multiple vantage points. (Makes me think of Picasso and the Cubists.)

So, as I stand back from all this, the writing, the editing, the publishing, the interviews and headshots, the allusions, metaphors, symbolism, the philosophizing, I think both “Caesura” and “Whitman” are just about a guy in love on a long drive sort of working things out in his head. This is what I love about poetry. It truly is the perfect medium to “work things out.

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