Mason Winfield

Mason Winfield

Irish poets, learn your trade.

Sing whatever is well made.

- W. B. Yeats

For Irving Feldman

The world is hardly soft, nor is it still.

The grace we have we forge. It holds until

The center slips again. And poetry’s

Like that. Though decades coddle, centuries

Have out. And one who writes true lives a style

That scorns all comment on itself the while,

Ancestral, smooth and firm as Homer’s bronze,

But unaffected as the Coole Park swans.

To show this, thus best teach it, to a class

One demonstrates a metaphoric ass

Hard as Achaean bronze, disdains the trite

And spites the maudlin. Nearly overnight

Young writers must perfect the inner ear

Deaf to the decade, and to learn to hear

The eons’ pace without a moment’s thought.

Decades may coddle; centuries will not.

Nor could you - seconds apiece each season -

Suffer posing, pausing just to reason

By giving Goehring’s butthead-line a run

(“When I hear ‘culture,’ I reach for my gun.”).

Switch “craft” for culture and for pistol, “putz,”

And there we have you with no ands or buts.

Craft-talk does more than mark the faux-artiste;

It might have helped some of us, me at least;

But we must spot the gestures, for the day

When all will rise, and wheeling, soar away.

I took the barbs with suiting diffidence.

There soaking every second, it made sense.

(“Process it now. There’s time enough to flare.”)

You got it out of me real good once, there.

That soldier’s portrait in my parents’ hall,

My Union uncle Ambrose, took his fall

And rests today somewhere in Tennessee…

To meet its gaze, both of us twenty-three,

To hold his notes… Mothers, too, die in war,

Which was my poem. The class heard no more

Than elitism. You agreed with them.

Maybe you’re all right, but these days – Ahem -

Art hardly lacks the personal plangent.

Mine seemed the year’s most marginal tangent.

“It’s not my fault if we have history.

I mention it just once, it’s snobbery,

After all you vent…?”  Guess I let it out -

“That’s too damn bad!” - a Hectorean shout.

Its echoes might have made the chairlegs knock.

I couldn’t write a thing you wouldn’t rock,

Because if there’s a flaw, a crack, a doubt

In art or artist, time will find it out.

Your every dart at each Achilles’ heel

Was to teach the enthrallment of the real.

I hear, I hear, I hear, but tell you still

The world has space left yet for Spirit to fill,

And this could be my birthday gift to you.

No charge. I’ll show you this before I’m through.

A poem for you ought to be as wry

As one of yours, hard and clear to the eye,

But multi-sensual as the chain Gleipnir -

Cat-steps, fish-breath – the fetter holds Fenrir,

The Chaos-wolf, until the gyre next perns,

The new phase settles what it keeps or spurns.

No poem’s done without a good long spell

In the mind’s alembic, that image-well,

Then stripped and pounded out of all but sense;

But hold the bolts this once. In my defense,

“By equinox,” for me, is overnight.

Six weeks is faster than I ever write.

We know how much you love pentameter,

And heroic verse – Putz-grab! – but this time, Sir,

We’ll do the teaching. You can keep your seat.

More of us than you know have sensed the beat

Behind the breastplate, and we here decree

That it was grand sharing your century.