POETRY MATTERS

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 Above: “Candelabra with Heads” – Thomas Hirschhorn

On August 14, 2017, the Monday after the Charlottesville rally, Poets.org published Nicole Sealey’s “In Defense of ‘Candelabra with Heads,'” a frightening and hopeful poem that, as Sealey says in Elizabeth Flock’s After Charlottesville, people share poems to grieve, resist and understand (PBS News Hour) “…speaks to our past…I don’t think we can move forward without an acknowledgement of our past. Not sugarcoating the history of our country, but acknowledging it, and hoping we can move forward.”

The poem has a effective message, but it’s also aesthetically intriguing (note how the indentation imitates the shape of the Hirschhorn sculpture.) It’s an excellent contribution to the ever-increasing number of political poems published since the 2016 election. (See Christopher Scalia’s Weekly Standard article Can Political Poetry Matter?  re: how rare it is to find political poems that are actually effective.) Here’s an excerpt:

In Defense of “Candelabra with Heads”

If you’ve read the “Candelabra with Heads”
that appears in this collection and the one
in The Animal, thank you. The original,
the one included here, is an example, I’m told,
of a poem that can speak for itself, but loses
faith in its ability to do so by ending with a thesis
question. Yeats said a poem should click shut
like a well-made box. I don’t disagree
Read rest of poem at Poets.org
In a note at Poets.org, Sealey says “This poem was written in response to an editorial decision I made at the suggestion of poets whom I respect. In my chapbook, The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named, the edited version of the poem ‘Candelabra with Heads’ appears, sans the original last line: ‘Who can see this and not see lynchings?’ …the original ‘Candelabra with Heads’ speaks most honestly to my intent. That said, I’ve returned the line, the question to its place in the poem.”
 download.jpg
 –
The original poem – from Copper Nickel, number 20, spring 2015:
 –
Candelabra with Heads
[After the sculpture by Thomas Hirschhorn]
 –
Had I not brought with me my mind
as it had been made, this thing,
this brood of mannequins, cocooned
and mounted n a wooden scaffold,
might be eight infants swaddled and sleeping.
Might be eight fleshy fingers on one hand.
Might be a family tree with eight pictured
frames.  Such treaties occur in the brain.
 –
Can you see them hanging? Their shadow
is a crowd stripping the tree of souvenirs.
Skin shrinks and splits.  The bodies weep
fat the color of yolk. Can you smell them
burning? Their perfume climbing
as wisteria would a trellis.
 =
as wisteria would a trellis.
burning? Their perfume climbing
fat the color of yolk. can you smell them
Skin shrinks and splits. The bodies weep
is a crowd stripping the trees of souvenirs.
Can you see them hanging? Their shadow
 =
frames. Such treaties occur in the brain.
Might be a family tree with eight pictured.
Might be eight fleshy fingers on one hand.
might be eight infants swaddled and sleeping.
and mounted on a wooden scaffold
this brood of mannequins, cocooned
as it had been made, this thing,
Had I not brought with me my mind
 –
Who can see this and not see lynchings?
———————————————————————————————-
download.jpg
 
Here is the revised version from The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named:
 

Candelabra with Heads

After the sculpture by Thomas Hirschhorn
 –
Had I not brought with me my mind
as it had been made, this thing,
this brood of mannequins, cocooned
and mounted on a wooden scaffold,
might be eight infants swaddled and sleeping.
Might be eight fleshy fingers on one hand.
Might be a family tree with eight pictured
frames. Such treaties occur in the brain.
 –
Can you see them hanging? Their shadow
is a crowd stripping the tree of souvenirs.
Skin shrinks and splits. The bodies weep
fat the color of yolk. Can you smell the burning?
 –
fat the color of yolk,  Can you smell the burning?
Skin shrinks and splits. The bodies weep
is a crowd stripping the skin of souvenirs.
Can you see them hanging? Their shadow
 –
frames. Such treaties occur in the brain.
Might be a family tree with eight pictured
Might be eight fleshy fingers on one hand.
might be eight infants swaddled and sleeping.
and mounted on a wooden scaffold,
this brood of mannequins, cocooned
as it had been made, this thing,
Had I not brought with me my mind
—–
A note about form: In an email written to give Tribrach permission to reprint the two versions of “Candelabra…” Sealey wrote that “the poem is written in a form created by me called ‘Obverse.’ The poem’s second half is written in the reverse order of the first and the last line is the ‘thesis question’ of the poem.”
Note that both versions can be read in reverse order.

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