Sunday, October 26, 2014

MOOC ModPo Poem of the Day: "Chronic Meanings" by Bob Perelman

The Songs of Eretz Poetry Review MOOC ModPo Poem of the Day for October 26, 2014 is "Chronic Meanings" by Bob Perelman.  The text of the poem as well as a audio reading of it by the poet may be found here:  http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Perelman/chronic-meanings.php.

The poet, critic, playwright, and translator Bob Perelman (b. 1947) is a teacher at the University of Pennsylvania.  He has published numerous poetry collections and works of criticism.  His poems have been described as "disrupt[ing] sense and syntax as they search to connect body and language."  Reference to this and additional biographical information may be found here:  http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/bob-perelman.

Perelman dedicated "Chronic Meanings" to an acquaintance whom he admired, Leland Hickman (1934 - 1991) (pictured), the editor of Temblor in the '70s and '80s.  Perelman had learned that Hickman was dying from AIDS and composed "Chronic Meanings" to be a kind of sympathy card or, in view of Hickman's terminal illness, perhaps an elegy in anticipation of his death.  Perelman submitted the poem to Hickman, and Hickman personally typeset it and published it in Temblor.  So, in a way, Hickman typeset and published his own elegy.  Reference to this and additional information about "Chronic Meanings" in Perelman's own words may be found here:  https://class.coursera.org/modernpoetry-003/wiki/view?page=BobPerelmanscommentsonChronicMeanings.

Perelman arbitrarily limits each line of the poem to five words--this is emphasized in the second line:  "Five words can say only."  As Perelman demonstrates in his reading, the poem should be read with inflection that would indicate sudden, unexpected breaks in the lines.  If poetry is narrative, then "Chronic Meanings" is narrative interrupted, just as Hickman's life was cut short.


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