Thursday, May 16, 2013

"Celestial Terms" Discussion

It's fine to talk about what you think of the piece, but we'd like to focus on what the piece makes you think about. Some questions to start:  

Literature is often used to explore family dysfunction. How does this piece explore functionality?

This poem employs various images to describe a father-daughter relationship ("a jumble of chords using mostly black keys," an awkward circling dance, etc.). What is an intergenerational relationship that's been important in your life and what image or metaphor might you use to describe it?

How do you think exalted relationships will resemble and differ from mortal relationships?


  1. Ah, yes, the crust on the lava.

    I had a great relationship with my mother while growing up. She was basically my best friend and we talked about basically everything. Then I grew up. Our relationship isn't dysfunctional, but it's not what it used to be. There are myriad factors, some of which I may be unaware of. It's mainly a question of adjustment, I suppose. We couldn't fill the same roles for each other anymore and that felt to both of us like a failing of some kind. She couldn't be my all-knowing mentor anymore and I could no longer be her adoring disciple. I guess the pain for both of us is that sense of loss of something strong and beautiful and the difficult reknitting into something real.

  2. I've read this before, and I still love it. There's a play in your experimental poems that I find quite charming, Sarah, and it's on full display here. (Extra points for "appoggiatura.") The poem is polymathic (at least in its aspiration), and that speaks volumes about the relationship it celebrates.

  3. I love my parents. But thinking about this poem and intergenerational relationships, I actually think most of my grandfathers.

    My dad's dad was intense about ideas--sometimes because he cared and other times just to get a rise out of people. I used to talk with him on the phone a lot and go from ancient philosophers to the virtues of canned peaches. He didn't have a strong sense of decorum and said inappropriate things sometimes, but that was just part of the package. One of the great tragedies of my life is that he died two years before I met my wife: I'd always wanted the person I chose to build a life with to meet him, to know through that encounter where I can from. My dad's dad was a big influence on the curiosity and creativity in my life.

    My mom's dad has been a great source a stability. Watching him taught me how to make your own choices while still valuing tradition, how to sacrifice for family, how to work hard and find joy in that. There were times, I suspect, when he worried about whether I'd be OK having studied theater and writing. There have certainly been plenty of differences in the ways we think about the world. But we're still anchored to each other.

    I wonder what my relationships with both grandfathers will be like in the next world. It's hard for me to imagine them without some of the limitations in communication that made us reach so hard for each other here.

  4. I've also been thinking about this poem in terms of my relationship with my eight-year-old daughter. What does my love look like in her language?

  5. Emily Harris AdamsMay 16, 2013 at 8:42 PM

    This poem makes me think of a specific time when I learned my mother and I had some different ways of communicating. I was about eight and I'd been suffering from severe headaches for a few weeks. My mom asked me what the headaches felt like. I told her it felt like I had a fish in my head. Which made perfect sense to me. I meant that my head felt full of pressure, like a big fish was stuck inside and wanted out. I felt nausea, almost like the fish was swimming in circles and making me dizzy. My head also throbbed, like the fish was hitting my forehead with his tail. But all I said was, "Like there's a fish in my head."

    My Mom replied, "You'll need to think of a different way to explain that to the doctor."

    I'm lucky. Mom was always patient and took her time figuring out what exactly I was trying to say, but she never tried to force me to say things exactly how everyone else said them. Dad was very much the same. I think they were the first people to help me become a writer.

  6. I think it's interesting how love is one of the most common themes of poetry and art in general, yet one of the most difficult to really fully communicate; if it were easier to communicate, we wouldn't have to come at it again and again, continually trying to define, capture, or explain it. We could just point to the completed work and say, "There. That's love." But this poem shows, love isn't in the words. It is a phenomenon that exists only in relationship, not abstraction. So each relationship complicates the phenomenon, rendering the words we work so hard to bend and shape with meaning sometimes powerless. I think in a celestial realm where God can simply say, "let there be light," and there is light, we may find words to match the magnitude of something like love.

    Also, I just had to comment about the first line. My math-major mother used to write love letters to my engineer father in algerbraic formulas. Seriously. Don't ask how they ended up with a bunch of daughters in the humanities.

  7. I like how the husband plays a secondary role in the poem. The relationship between father and daughter has emotional and intellectual roots that don't involve or even necessarily interest him.

  8. Marianne Hales HardingMay 19, 2013 at 11:22 PM

    I love the first few lines of this piece and the concept of loving each other in the language of our various passions. Also, Annalisa, I think the idea of math majors writing math formula love notes is so darn charming. Oh my goodness. I'm just so charmed by this piece.

  9. This made me think of my daughter buying her first model airplane and playing Axis and Allies or GURPS with her daddy. (She's only 6, so for now, it's simplified.) It's special to observe their growing relationship, and actually makes me feel fonder toward both of them. Even though sometimes I steer clear of my husband's hobbies, (Maybe I'm just trying to preserve my independent identity?) I love it when my daughters are interested in what he's doing.



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